Neck pain can arise for a variety of reasons, some serious and some temporary and largely inconsequential. Similarly, some symptoms that occur alongside pain in the neck can be mild or severe. In this overview of neck pain causes, symptoms, and treatments, we’ll take a look at some of the most common circumstances surrounding neck pain.
Neck Pain Causes
The neck is a very complicated area of the body, with lots of tissues packed into a tight space. As such, neck pain can result from:
- Stress to the bones, joints, or soft tissues
- Cervical spinal stenosis
- Cervical disc herniation or bulging
- Muscle strain
- Thyroid enlargement
- Poor posture (including ‘text neck’)
- Osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis
- Ankylosing spondylitis
Neck pain may also be a result of other health issues or the medications or treatments for such problems. In these cases, neck pain is secondary symptom and will typically resolved once medications are changed or stopped, or when the underlying (primary) condition is resolved.
Neck Pain Symptoms
Neck pain may be a standalone symptoms or could be accompanied by other problems. This depends on the cause of neck pain and any conditions either contributing to the pain or triggered by it. For instance, neck pain may lead person to adopt a stiffer posture that results in pain elsewhere in the body.
In some cases, neck pain symptoms may be accompanied by:
- Neck or shoulder stiffness
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Changes in vision (i.e. blurred vision)
- Facial soreness
- Back pain
- Tingling in the arms and hands
- Numbness in the arms and hands
- Changes in gait (the way you walk)
- Impaired fine motor skills
- Chest pain
- Cognitive issues such as confusion.
If neck pain and stiffness are accompanied by fever, confusion, chest pain, or changes in vision, bowel or bladder function, gait, or fine motor control, seek immediate medical assistance.
Neck pain treatment
Treatment for neck pain depends on the cause of the pain and any accompanying symptoms. In most cases, neck pain is dealt with conservatively, meaning rest, relaxation, analgesic medications and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
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It is always a good idea to try to establish the cause of the pain and remove any triggering factors if possible. For example, neck pain caused by a poor work station set-up can be addressed by making the work station more ergonomic. And, if poor posture is the issue, try using a posture app perhaps.
Some patients find that neck pain related to stress and tension can be relieved by massage, acupuncture, flotation tank therapy, or simply a hot bath.
In some case, neck pain may respond well to cryotherapy (i.e. an ice pack) and rest. Other options for neck pain treatment include:
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (a TENS machine)
- Anesthetic creams or gels
- Natural anti-inflammatories
- Ultrasound therapy
- Spinal manipulation (chiropractic)
- Physical therapy
- Opioid pain medications
- Steroid injections
Treatments for neck pain often aim simply to relieve the pain. Ideally, treatments will factor in neck pain causes and aim to alleviate both the pain and any underlying issues. Strengthening the cervical spine by engaging in appropriate neck exercises can be helpful in some situations, while others may be benefited by changes in lifestyle, diet, or medications for other health issues.