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Neck pain is pain that can occur anywhere in your neck, from the bottom of your head to the top of your shoulders. It can spread to your upper back or arms. It may limit how much you can move your head and neck.
Neck pain is common, especially in people older than 50.
Neck pain can be caused by activities that strain the neck, such as slouching, painting a ceiling, or sleeping with your neck twisted. It can also be caused by an injury, such as a fall or whiplash from a car crash. Some medical problems can cause it. Sometimes there is no clear cause.
You may feel a knot, stiffness, or severe pain in your neck. It may spread to your shoulders, upper back, or arms. You may get a headache. It may be hard to turn your head. You might have shooting pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness in your arm.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and possible causes of your neck pain. You'll be checked to see how well you can move your neck and for tenderness, numbness, tingling, or weakness in your arms or hands. You may get X-rays. Your doctor may do blood tests to check for infection or illness.
Most neck pain can be treated at home. Try a heating pad or ice for 10 to 15 minutes every few hours. Avoid more injury by changing how you sit or sleep. Try physiotherapy. Your doctor may suggest anti-inflammatory medicine or prescribe other medicines. Surgery is rarely done.
You can avoid some neck pain with new habits. Avoid spending time in positions that stress your neck. Sit straight in your chair with your feet flat on the floor. Take short breaks. Don't sleep on your stomach with your neck twisted. Try using pillows that keep your neck straight.
Neck pain can be caused by activities that strain the neck. Slouching, painting a ceiling, or sleeping with your neck twisted are some things that can cause neck pain. These kinds of activities can lead to neck strain, a sprain, or a spasm of the neck muscles.
Neck pain can also be caused by an injury. A fall from a ladder or whiplash from a car crash can cause neck pain. Some less common medical problems can also lead to neck pain, such as:
Sometimes neck pain may not have a clear cause.
You can avoid neck pain caused by stress or muscle strain with some new habits.
Here are some things to try:
You may feel a knot, stiffness, or severe pain in your neck. The pain may be worse when you move. It may spread to your shoulders, upper back, or arms. You may get a headache. You may not be able to move or turn your head and neck easily.
If there is pressure on a spinal nerve root, you might have pain that shoots down your arm. You may also have numbness, tingling, or weakness in your arm. You may also have a burning feeling when you are touched on the skin of the arm or hand. There might also be pain that feels like a shock and extends into your arm or hand.
If your neck pain is long-lasting (chronic), you may have trouble coping with daily life. Common side effects of chronic pain include fatigue, depression, and anxiety.
Most neck pain gets better within several weeks with treatment that includes taking steps to relieve pain, modifying activities, and doing exercises or manual therapy. Neck pain caused by an injury such as a severe whiplash may take longer but usually improves in 6 to 12 months.
Neck pain may become long-lasting (chronic) when it occurs in combination with other health conditions, such as conditions associated with increasing age. These include narrowing of the spinal canal (cervical spinal stenosis), arthritis of the neck (cervical spondylosis), or herniated disc. In some cases, chronic neck pain can be caused by repeated and prolonged movements, such as long hours working at a computer.
Chronic neck pain can make it hard to cope with daily life. Common side effects of chronic pain include fatigue, depression, and anxiety.
Call 911 or other emergency services immediately if:
Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:
Most neck pain doesn't require a visit to a doctor.
If the pain doesn't get better after 1 or 2 days and you can't do your normal daily activities, call your doctor.
If you still have mild to moderate pain after at least 2 weeks of home treatment, talk with your doctor. You may need to be checked for problems that may be causing your neck pain.
Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and do a physical exam. He or she may also ask about any injuries, illnesses, or activities that may be causing your neck pain, as well as any previous treatment you've had.
During the physical exam, your doctor will check how well you can move your neck. He or she will also look for tenderness or numbness, tingling, or weakness in your arms or hands.
You may have blood tests to check for an illness or infection.
You may not need X-rays or other imaging tests. But if your pain started after an injury, or if it doesn't improve after a few weeks, your doctor may want to do more tests. Imaging tests can show the neck muscles and tissues. These tests may be done to check the neck bones, spinal discs, spinal nerve roots, and spinal cord.
Imaging tests may help especially when:
Besides X-rays, tests may include:
The type of treatment you need depends on the cause of your neck pain. Most neck pain caused by activities can be treated at home.
For neck pain that occurs suddenly:
Ask your doctor if you can take an anti-inflammatory medicine for pain.
For chronic neck pain, your doctor may prescribe medicine to relax your neck muscles, relieve pain, or help you sleep.
Surgery is rarely done to treat neck pain.
There is no strong evidence that either heat or ice will help your neck pain. But it won't hurt to try them.
Use it on a low or medium setting for 15 to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours.
Do this in place of one session with the heating pad.
You can buy ones that last up to 8 hours.
Use it for 10 to 15 minutes every 2 to 3 hours.
As soon as you can, get moving. This can help speed your recovery from neck pain.
Movement helps your muscles stay strong.
They will keep your neck flexible and strong and prevent stiffness.
You can treat neck pain at home with some new habits. Here are some steps you can take to help you feel better.
Or gently massage the area yourself.
Smoking slows healing because it decreases blood supply and delays tissue repair.
Include aerobic exercise such as walking.
Examples include sitting for a long time at the computer or doing too much overhead work at a time.
Examples include lifting and sports.
Medicines can relieve neck pain and reduce inflammation of the soft tissues. Pain relief will allow you to move your neck gently, so you can begin easy exercises and start to heal.
Non-prescription pain relievers include:
Prescription pain relievers include:
Surgery is rarely needed for neck pain. It may be an option when:
Complementary medicine treatments are sometimes used to relieve neck pain and restore neck mobility. They include:
Find out about the safety of any complementary product or practice you want to try. Most mind and body practices—such as acupuncture, massage, and yoga—are safe when used under the care of a well-trained professional. Choose an instructor or practitioner as carefully as you would choose a doctor.
Talk with your doctor about any complementary health practice that you would like to try or are already using. Your doctor can help you manage your health better if he or she knows about all of your health practices.
Current as of: November 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise StaffClinical Review Board: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineE. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: November 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
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