Pain - neck; Neck stiffness; Cervicalgia; Whiplash; Stiff neck
A common cause of neck pain is muscle strain or tension. Most often, everyday activities are to blame. Such activities include:
Accidents or falls can cause severe neck injuries, such as vertebral fractures, whiplash, blood vessel injury, and even paralysis.
Other causes include:
When your neck is sore, you may have difficulty moving it, such as turning to one side. Many people describe this as having a stiff neck.
If neck pain involves compression of your nerves, you may feel numbness, tingling, or weakness in your arm or hand.
Neck pain is discomfort in any of the structures in the neck. These include the muscles, nerves, bones (vertebrae), joints, and the discs between the bones.
Treatment and self-care for your neck pain depend on the cause of the pain. You will need to learn:
For minor, common causes of neck pain:
Your provider will perform a physical exam and ask about your neck pain, including how often it occurs and how much it hurts.
Your provider will probably not order any tests during the first visit. Tests are only done if 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 provider may prescribe a muscle relaxant or a more powerful pain reliever. Over-the-counter medicines often work as well as prescription drugs. At times, your provider may give you steroids to reduce swelling. If there is nerve damage, your provider may refer you to a neurologist, neurosurgeon, or orthopedic surgeon for consultation.
Seek medical help right away if you have:
Call your provider if:
Cheng JS, Vasquez-Castellanos R, Wong C. Neck pain. In: Firestein GS, Budd RC, Gabriel SE, McInnes IB, O'Dell JR, eds. Kelly and Firestein's Textbook of Rheumatology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 45.
Cohen SP. Epidemiology, diagnosis, and treatment of neck pain. Mayo Clin Proc. 2015;90(2):284-299. PMID: 25659245
Najera LV, Alleva JT, Mohr N, Origenes AK, Hudgins TH. Cervical sprain or strain. In: Frontera WR, Silver JK, Rizzo TD, eds. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 6.
Ronthal M. Arm and neck pain. In: Daroff RB, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 31.
Review Date: 1/14/2018
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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