Pain In Neck, Its Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment


The medication and instruction details for the pain in neck are for reference only and are not intended to act as a prescription for any patient. Always use medicine when a doctor prescribes medicine after a complete checkup.

Pain in Neck and Its Causes

Pain In Neck

Pain in neck is common.

  • Poor posture — whether from leaning over a computer
  • Hunching over a workbench — strains neck muscles.
  • Osteoarthritis also is a common cause of neck pain.

Rarely, pain in neck can be a symptom of a more serious problem. Seek medical care for neck pain with numbness or loss of strength in the arms or hands or for pain that shoots into a shoulder or down an arm.

What is neck pain (cervicalgia)?

Pain in neck, also known as cervicalgia, is a common symptom of various injuries and medical conditions. It can be acute or chronic, affecting the cervical spine and affecting daily activities. Most causes of neck pain aren’t serious and can be improved with conservative treatments like pain medicine, exercise, and stress management. Addressing neck pain can improve quality of life and reduce daily activities.


Pain in neck may involve other symptoms, including:

  • Stiffness in your neck, shoulders, and upper back.
  • Being unable to turn your neck or tilt your head.
  • A persistent ache.
  • A stabbing or burning pain.
  • A shooting pain that travels from their neck to their shoulders or arms.
  • Numbness or tingling (pins and needles) feeling in your shoulders or arms.
  • Pain that’s often worsened by holding the head in one place for long periods, such as when driving or working at a computer
  • Muscle tightness and spasms
  • Decreased ability to move the head.
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Pain in neck


Because the neck supports the weight of the head, it can be at risk of injuries and conditions that cause pain and restrict motion. Pain in neck causes include:

  • Muscle strains. Overuse, such as too many hours hunched over a computer or a smartphone, often triggers muscle strains. Even minor things, such as reading in bed, can strain neck muscles.
  • Worn joints. As with other joints in the body, neck joints tend to wear with age. In response to this wear and tear, the body often forms bone spurs that can affect joint motion and cause pain.
  • Nerve compression. Herniated disks or bone spurs in the vertebrae of the neck can press on the nerves branching out from the spinal cord.
  • Rear-end auto collisions often result in whiplash injury. This occurs when the head jerks backward and then forward, straining the soft tissues of the neck.
  • Certain diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, meningitis, or cancer, can cause neck pain.
  • Mental stress: Tightening your neck muscles because you’re stressed can lead to neck pain and stiffness. Many people who tighten these muscles when they’re stressed or agitated don’t realize they do it until their neck starts hurting.
  • Aging: As you age, natural wear and tear can cause parts of your cervical spine to deteriorate, or degenerate, causing pain. Degenerative conditions such as osteoarthritis (the wearing down of joint cartilage) and spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spaces in your spine) can lead to neck pain. Over time, stress and repeated movements can cause the disks in your spine to weaken, causing a herniated disk or pinched nerve.

Testing & Diagnosis

Diagnosis is made by a neurosurgeon based on patient history, symptoms, a physical examination, and results of diagnostic studies, if necessary. Some patients may be treated conservatively and then undergo imaging studies if medication and physical therapy are ineffective. These tests may include:

  • Computed Tomography Scan (CT or CAT scan)
  • Discography
  • Electromyography (EMG)
  • Nerve Conduction Studies (NCS)
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
  • Myelogram
  • Selective Nerve Root Block
  • X-rays


Some tests are explained below:

  • Medical history: Your provider will ask about previous neck injuries that may have caused whiplash or a herniated disk. They may ask about work or other activities that could strain your neck. They’ll ask about your pain, including when it started, where it’s located, how long it lasts, and how intense it is.
  • Physical exam: Your provider will check your head and neck alignment and observe your range of motion when you move your neck. They’ll feel your neck and supporting muscles to check for tenderness and signs of strain.
  • X-rays: X-rays can show problems with your bones or soft tissues that may be causing neck pain. An X-ray can show issues with cervical alignment, fractures, and slipped discs, and they can detect arthritis.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): An MRI can show problems with your spinal cord, nerves, bone marrow, and soft tissue. It can show if a disk has slipped out of place, signs of infection, and masses that may be causing neck pain, like a cyst or tumor.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: A CT scan may be used if an MRI isn’t available. It can show bone spurs and signs of bone deterioration.
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How is Pain in Neck Managed or Treated?

Treatment aims to relieve your pain and improve movement in your neck. Most causes of pain in neck eventually improve and can be managed at home. Your provider will suggest treatments to manage your symptoms, including:

  • Pain medications and muscle relaxers: Medicines, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to ease neck pain and inflammation, and muscle relaxants to help your neck muscles heal, are common first-line treatments for neck pain.
  • Physical therapy: You may work with a physical therapist or a fitness trainer to learn exercises and movements that strengthen the muscles and tendons in your neck and improve flexibility.
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit: A TENS unit applies a low-level electrical current to your skin near your nerves to disrupt the pain signal causing discomfort. Always check with a healthcare provider before using a TENS unit.
  • Steroid injections: A shot near the nerve roots can reduce inflammation and relieve pain.
  • Alternative therapies: Your provider may recommend acupuncture to relieve pain, or massage to help loosen tightened muscles contributing to your discomfort. You may see an osteopath or chiropractor to align your spine.
  • Surgery: Most causes of neck pain don’t require surgery. Still, you may need surgery if one or more of the vertebrae in your spine has shifted out of place or is putting pressure on your nerves.

If your pain is severe, you may need to talk with a spine or pain specialist.

Medication for Neck Pain

Doctors may recommend medication as a first treatment option for pain in neck, though it doesn’t address the cause of the pain or prevent it from worsening. It can ease pain temporarily so you can start physical therapy and exercise, which may relieve pain in the long term.


Pain Relief Medications

Pain in neck


Some pain in neck may be due to inflammation in the discs of the spine and the surrounding nerves and joints. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) alleviate pain by reducing inflammation. NSAIDs include ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, all of which are available over the counter.

If pain in neck becomes disabling and interferes with your everyday activities, a doctor may prescribe stronger medications for short-term pain relief until a muscle relaxant or an NSAID starts to work. Our doctors don’t encourage long-term use of prescription pain relievers because they may cause changes in the nervous system so that you actually perceive more pain.

  • Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil)
  • Naproxen (Aleve)
  • Diclofenac (Voltaren)
  • Meloxicam (Mobic)
  • Celecoxib (Celebrex)

Muscle Relaxants

Conditions such as degenerative disc disease or a herniated disc can cause neck pain. If the disc between vertebrae slips out of place and pinches a nerve root, or if bone spurs press against nerve roots or the spinal cord, the signals sent from the nerve to the spinal muscle may be disrupted, leading to painful muscle spasms. Muscle relaxants can eliminate spasms and ease pain.

  • Chlorzoxazone (Lorzone®, Parafon Forte DSC®, Relax-DS®, Remular S®).
  • Cyclobenzaprine (Fexmid®, Flexeril®).
  • Metaxalone (Metaxall®, Skelaxin®).
  • Methocarbamol (Robaxin®).
  • Carisoprodol (Soma®, Vanadom®).


Healing time depends on what’s causing your neck pain. Pain in neck caused by common issues like strains and stress usually improves within a week or two. It may take a few months before the pain disappears entirely.

Pain in neck is a pain that starts in the neck and can be associated with radiating pain down one or both of the arms. Pain in neck can come from a number of disorders or diseases that involve any of the tissues in the neck, nerves, bones, joints, ligaments, or muscles. The neck region of the spinal column, the cervical spine, consists of seven bones (C1-C7 vertebrae), which are separated from one another by intervertebral discs. These discs allow the spine to move freely and act as shock absorbers during activity.

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