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What Is Neck Pain?

The neck is made up of the vertebrae (bones), spinal cord (which contains nerves), discs between vertebrae, and tissues such as muscles and ligaments. Vertebrae protect the spinal cord. Discs are like shock absorbers for the head and neck. They cushion the bones and allow the head and neck to bend. Ligaments are fibrous bands of tissue connecting bones (or cartilages) together. Neck pain may be caused by an injury or disease affecting this area.

What Causes Neck Pain?

Being in an uncomfortable position for a long time and poor posture can cause neck pain. It may occur with diseases such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and fibromyalgia. It may also result from a neck injury. Stress that causes muscle tension may worsen neck pain.

What Are the Symptoms of Neck Pain?

Symptoms include problems looking from side to side, driving, and reading. Sometimes, pain may prevent sleeping. Neck pain can cause headaches. Neck pain that lasts for months may affect a person’s ability to work.

How Is Neck Pain Diagnosed?

The health care provider makes a diagnosis from a medical history and physical examination. X-rays may also be done. The health care provider may order blood tests to see whether neck pain is due to diseases with similar symptoms.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be done if the health care provider needs a clearer picture of bones, nerves, discs, and other soft tissues. Sometimes, electromyography (EMG), which helps find muscle and nerve problems, may be done if the neck problem may be causing numbness or tingling in the arms because of pressure on nerves.

How Is Neck Pain Treated?

Treatment depends on the cause of the pain. If an injury is the cause, the health care provider may suggest using ice on the area. Nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may help reduce the pain. For especially severe pain, stronger narcotic medicines may be needed for a short time. Muscle spasms may be helped with a muscle relaxant. Physical therapy may reduce pain with deep heat treatments, traction, and exercise. All medicines have side effects. NSAIDs may cause upset stomach, diarrhea, ulcers, headache, dizziness, trouble hearing, or rash. Some side effects of muscle relaxants are drowsiness, dizziness, and rash.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Neck Pain:

  • DO take your medicines as prescribed.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have side effects from medicines.
  • DO use good posture when sitting and standing.
  • DO ask your health care provider about using a cervical pillow for severe pain.
  • DO neck exercises every day.
  • DO call your health care provider if you continue to have neck pain or headaches.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have numbness or tingling in your arms.
  • DO call your health care provider if you need a referral to a physical therapist.
  • DON’T wait to see whether a side effect of medicine goes away on its own.

Contact the following sources:

  • National Arthritis Foundation
    Tel: (800) 283-7800
  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
    Tel: (847) 823-7186

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

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