What is neck pain?
Neck pain is a common complaint. Neck muscles can be strained from poor posture — whether it’s leaning over your computer or hunching over your workbench. Osteoarthritis also is a common cause of neck pain.
Rarely, neck pain can be a symptom of a more serious problem. Seek medical care if your neck pain is accompanied by numbness or loss of strength in your arms or hands or if you have shooting pain into your shoulder or down your arm.
What are the symptoms of neck pain?
Signs and symptoms include:
Pain that’s often worsened by holding your head in one place for long periods, such as when driving or working at a computer
Muscle tightness and spasms
Decreased ability to move your head
What causes neck pain?
Your neck is flexible and supports the weight of your head, so it can be vulnerable to injuries and conditions that cause pain and restrict motion. Neck pain causes include:
Muscle strains. Overuse, such as too many hours hunched over your computer or smartphone, often triggers muscle strains. Even minor things, such as reading in bed or gritting your teeth, can strain neck muscles.
Worn joints. Just like the other joints in your body, your neck joints tend to wear down with age. Osteoarthritis causes the cushions (cartilage) between your bones (vertebrae) to deteriorate. Your body then forms bone spurs that affect joint motion and cause pain.
Nerve compression. Herniated disks or bone spurs in the vertebrae of your neck can press on the nerves branching out from the spinal cord.
Injuries. Rear-end auto collisions often result in whiplash injury, which occurs when the head is jerked backward and then forward, straining the soft tissues of the neck.
How is neck pain diagnosed?
Your doctor will take a medical history and do an exam. He or she will check for tenderness, numbness and muscle weakness, as well as see how far you can move your head forward, backward and side to side.
Your doctor might order imaging tests to get a better picture of the cause of your neck pain such as X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs
What are some treatments for neck pain?
The most common types of mild to moderate neck pain usually respond well to self-care within two or three weeks. If home treatments aren’t working, a thorough examination and evaluation can help determine the source of your neck pain and treatments can be performed targeting the pain generator. These treatments may include various injections, medications, physical therapy, and possibly surgery.