Neck pain is discomfort in any of the structures in the neck. These include muscles and nerves as well as spinal vertebrae and the cushioning disks in between.
When your neck is sore, you may have difficulty moving it, especially to one side. Many people describe this as having a stiff neck.
If neck pain involves nerves, you may feel numbness, tingling, or weakness in your arm, hand, or elsewhere.
A common cause of neck pain is muscle strain or tension. Usually, everyday activities are to blame. Such activities include bending over a desk for hours, having poor posture while watching TV or reading, placing your computer monitor too high or too low, sleeping in an uncomfortable position, or twisting and turning the neck in a jarring manner while exercising.
Extreme accidents or falls can cause severe neck injuries like vertebral fractures, whiplash, blood vessel injury, and even paralysis.
Other causes include:
For minor, common causes of neck pain:
You may want to reduce your activity only for the first couple of days. Then slowly resume your usual activities. Do not perform activities that involve heavy lifting or twisting of your back or neck for the first 6 weeks after the pain begins. After 2 - 3 weeks, slowly resume exercise. A physical therapist can help you decide when to begin stretching and strengthening exercises and how to do them.
Avoid the following exercises during your initial recovery, unless your doctor or physical therapist says it is okay:
Seek immediate medical help if:
Call your health care provider if:
Your doctor or nurse will perform a physical examination and ask questions about your neck pain, including how often it occurs and how much it hurts. Other questions may include:
These questions help your doctor determine the cause of your neck pain and whether it is likely to quickly get better with simple measures such as ice, mild painkillers, physical therapy, and proper exercises. Most of the time, neck pain will get better in 4 - 6 weeks using these approaches.
Your doctor or nurse will probably not order any tests during the first visit, unless you have symptoms or a medical history that suggests a tumor, infection, fracture, or serious nerve disorder. In that case, the following tests may be done:
If the pain is due to muscle spasm or a pinched nerve, your health care provider may prescribe a muscle relaxant and possibly a more powerful pain reliever. Over-the-counter medications often work as well as prescription drugs. The health care provider may prescribe a neck collar or, if there is nerve damage, refer you to a neurologist or neurosurgeon for consultation.
If your doctor or nurse thinks your neck pain may be due to meningitis, you will be sent to an emergency department for further tests and treatment.
Pain - neck; Neck stiffness
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Young IA, Michener LA, Cleland JA, Aguilera AJ, Snyder AR. Manual therapy, exercise, and traction for patients with cervical radiculopathy: a randomized clinical trial. Phys Ther. 2009 Jul;89(7):632-42. Epub 2009 May 21. Erratum in: Phys Ther. 2010 May;90(5):825. Phys Ther. 2009 Nov;89(11):1254-5.
Devereaux MW. Neck pain. Med Clin North Am. 2009;93:273-284.
Graham N, Gross A, Goldsmith CH, Klaber Moffett J, Haines T, Burnie SJ, et al. Mechanical traction for neck pain with or without radiculopathy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008;(3):CD006408.
Updated by: Dennis Ogiela, MD, Orthopedic Surgeon, Danbury Hospital, Danbury, CT. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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