Most people will have a minor
neck problem at one time or another. Our body movements usually do not cause
problems, but it's not surprising that symptoms develop from everyday wear and
tear, overuse, or injury. Neck problems and injuries most commonly occur during
sports or recreational activities, work-related tasks, or projects around the
Neck pain may feel like a "kink," stiffness, or severe pain.
Pain may spread to the shoulders, upper back, or arms, or it may cause a
headache. Neck movement may be limited, usually more to one side than the
other. Neck pain refers to pain anywhere from the area at the base of the skull
into the shoulders. The neck includes:
- The bones and joints of the cervical spine (vertebrae of the neck).
discs that separate the cervical vertebrae and absorb
shock as you move.
- The muscles and
ligaments in the neck that hold the cervical spine
Neck pain may be caused by an injury to one or more of these
areas, or it may have another cause. Home treatment will often help relieve
neck pain caused by minor injuries.
Activities that may cause neck pain
Neck pain is
often caused by a strain or spasm of the neck muscles or inflammation of the
neck joints. Examples of common activities that may cause this type of minor
- Holding your head in a forward posture or odd
position while working, watching TV, or reading.
- Sleeping on a
pillow that is too high or too flat or that doesn't support your head, or sleeping on
your stomach with your neck twisted or bent.
- Spending long periods
of time resting your forehead on your upright fist or arm ("thinker's
- Stress. Tension may make the muscles that run from the back
of the head across the back of the shoulder (trapezius muscle) feel tight and
- Work or exercise that uses your upper body and
Sudden (acute) injuries
Minor neck injuries may
result from tripping, falling a short distance, or excessive twisting of the
spine. Severe neck injuries may result from whiplash in a car accident, falls
from significant heights, direct blows to the back or the top of the head,
sports-related injuries, a penetrating injury such as a stab wound, or external
pressure applied to the neck, such as
Pain from an injury may be
sudden and severe. Bruising and swelling may develop soon after the injury.
Acute injuries include:
- An injury to the ligaments or muscles in the
neck, such as a
strain. When neck pain is caused by muscle strain, you
may have aches and stiffness that spread to your upper arm, shoulder, or upper
back. Shooting pain that spreads down the arm into the hand and fingers can be
a symptom of a pinched nerve (nerve root compression). Shooting pain is more
serious if it occurs in both arms or both hands rather than just one arm or one
- A fracture or dislocation of the spine. This can cause a
spinal cord injury that may lead to permanent paralysis. It is important to
immobilize and transport the injured person correctly to reduce the risk of
permanent paralysis. See
first aid for a spinal injury.
- A torn or
ruptured disc. If the tear is large enough, the jellylike material inside the
disc may leak out (herniate ) and press against a nerve or the spinal cord
(central disc herniation). You may have a headache, feel dizzy or sick to your
stomach, or have pain in your shoulder or down your arm.