woman backing up car
1 / 21

Causes of Pain

Your neck has a 24/7 job, and that takes a toll over the course of your life. Sometimes it hurts, and many things can bring that on. But you can do some things to help it feel better.

Swipe to advance
man sleeping on airplane
2 / 21

Unusual Sleep Position

If you have a “crick” in your neck, you know it right when you wake up. Maybe you fell asleep in a chair or used a different pillow. It comes from sleeping in a weird position that put a strain on your neck. It’s pretty common, and it’s usually not serious.

Swipe to advance
aspirin in hand close up
3 / 21

Treatment for Unusual Sleep Position

If you wake up with a crick, a little rest and an over-the-counter pain reliever should have you feeling better. To keep from getting another one, it helps to sleep on your back and make sure your pillow is in the right spot.

Swipe to advance
fighter jets performing in airshow
4 / 21

Neck Strain

If you do something with your neck you don't usually do, like look up at the sky for an air show or balance something heavy across your shoulders, it may start to hurt after a while. Those muscles aren’t used to working that way.

Swipe to advance
woman resting while painting wall
5 / 21

Treatment for Neck Strain

Don’t hold your head in unusual positions if you don’t have to. If you do, try to take breaks often and move your neck in other directions to keep your muscles loose. If you're in pain, rest and over-the-counter medications can help. See your doctor if it still hurts after a few days or you can’t move it like you could before.

Swipe to advance
young woman outside texting
6 / 21

‘Text Neck’ Syndrome

This is another form of neck strain, and it’s a real thing. Too many hours hunched over your smartphone can strain those muscles and tendons. Too much time hunched over anything -- including your computer or workbench -- can do the same thing.

Swipe to advance
woman texting on sofa
7 / 21

Treatment for Text Neck

Don't hunch forward. Hold your phone higher up when you look at it, for example. If your work puts you in a hunched position, take breaks and try to stretch and arch your back. And regular exercise will make you stronger and more flexible, which can help protect your neck. 

Swipe to advance
rugby players after tackle
8 / 21

‘Stinger’

This happens when you hit the nerves in your neck or shoulder, like when you play a contact sport. Something that feels like an electric shock shoots down your shoulder, arm, and hand. It usually lasts just a few seconds, but it may linger for days. 

Swipe to advance
man explaining neck pain to doctor
9 / 21

Treatment for Stinger

You'll probably recover without treatment, but if you have stingers often or they linger, see your doctor. This is especially true if you have numbness or tingling or you have one in both arms. She may suggest exercises for your joints and muscles or recommend surgery to get rid of scar tissue that can damage your nerves.

Swipe to advance
man with sore neck after auto accident
10 / 21

Whiplash

This can happen after any blunt force hits you from behind -- most often when your car is hit. It forces your head suddenly forward and then back again, like a whip. Aside from neck pain, you also may have headaches that start at the base of your skull and tingling, numbness, or pain in your upper back or arms.

Swipe to advance
woman stretching neck outside
11 / 21

Treatment for Whiplash

Your doctor may recommend medication to help with the pain. He may also show you exercises to help your muscles. Most people recover within a few months.

Swipe to advance
herniated disc illustration
12 / 21

Herniated Disk

The soft “disks” between the small bones of your spine can crack and ooze a jelly-like substance that pushes on nerves in your neck. It causes pain that can travel to your arms or down your back.

Swipe to advance
woman with compress on neck
13 / 21

Treatment for Herniated Disk

Hot and cold compresses may help bring swelling down and make you feel better. Pain medications and exercises that strengthen and stretch your muscles can help, too. If it still hurts after a couple of months, your doctor may recommend surgery.

Swipe to advance
spinal stenosis illustration
14 / 21

Spinal Stenosis

This is when the spaces in your spinal column narrow, which can put pressure on the nerves and bones that run from the part of your spine that’s in your neck to your shoulders, arms, and all the way down your legs. Arthritis, tumors, inherited diseases (genetic), and other conditions can cause it, and it's much more likely after age 50.

Swipe to advance
doctor filling syringe
15 / 21

Treatment for Spinal Stenosis

You can use over-the-counter medications to help with inflammation and pain, but if those don’t do the trick, you may need stronger ones from your doctor. You also may need physical therapy or to rest your neck for a time. If your pain is severe or you have a hard time moving, your doctor may recommend surgery to take the pressure off your spine.

Swipe to advance
spinal bone spurs
16 / 21

Bone Spurs

These are small, hard growths that form on the small bones that make up your spine. It’s common to have them as you get older. They can narrow the space around your spinal cord and pinch your spinal cord or the nerves around it. You may not notice them at all, or you might have a stiff neck with dull pain that shoots down your arms. They also can cause headaches.

Swipe to advance
surgeon in operating room
17 / 21

Treatment for Bone Spurs

If they hurt, your doctor may suggest over-the-counter pain relievers. If the spurs limit your range of motion or press on your nerves, you may need surgery to take them out.

Swipe to advance
spinal tumor
18 / 21

Spinal Tumor

Most of the time, this kind of tumor comes from another part of your body to your spine, where it pushes on a nerve and hurts. But it also can start in your neck. You may feel weak or numb in your arms or legs. They can be cancerous, so see your doctor immediately if you have these symptoms.

Swipe to advance
iv drip close up
19 / 21

Treatment for Spinal Tumor

Your surgeon may need to cut out all or part of the tumor to take pressure off your nerves. If it’s cancerous, he may recommend radiation or chemotherapy treatment to destroy any remaining tumor cells.

Swipe to advance
degenerative disc disease
20 / 21

Degenerative Disk Disease

As you age, the marshmallow-like disks between your vertebrae can get dry and less spongy. This can make them tear or split, and ooze their inner jelly. They may heal and form scar tissue, which is weaker than normal tissue. The space between the vertebrae can get smaller and change the way your spine fits together, which causes pain and can lead to arthritis.

Swipe to advance
woman sitting on pilates ball at office desk
21 / 21

Treatment for Degenerative Disk Disease

Lifestyle changes can help. The way you sit and sleep, as well as what you sit and sleep on, can make a difference. Medication can also help. If your case is severe, though, your doctor may recommend surgery.

Swipe to advance

Up Next

Next Slideshow Title

Sources | Medically Reviewed on 01/13/2017 Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on January 13, 2017

IMAGES PROVIDED BY:

1) Tanya Constantine / Thinkstock

2) kevinruss / Thinkstock

3) Arijuhani / Thinkstock

4) ziherMP / Thinkstock

5) michaelpuche / Thinkstock

6) william87 / Thinkstock

7) dolgachov / Thinkstock

8) Wavebreakmedia / Thinkstock

9) Wavebreakmedia / Thinkstock

10) bowdenimages / Thinkstock

11) Jacob Ammentorp Lund / Thinkstock

12) tiero / Thinkstock

13) Tatomm / Thinkstock

14) m_pavlov / Thinkstock

15) bdspn / Thinkstock

16) CNRI / Getty Images

17) johnkellerman / Thinkstock

18) stockdevil / Thinkstock

19) Pratchaya / Thinkstock

20) ZEPHYR / Getty Images

21) AndreyPopov / Thinkstock

 

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: “Brachial plexus injury,” “Diseases and Conditions: Neck Pain,” “Diseases and Conditions: Bone Spurs,” “Diseases and Conditions: Whiplash.”

Spine-Health: “Lumbar Degenerative Disc Disease Treatments,” “How to Avoid Text Neck Overuse Syndrome,” “Best Pillows for Different Sleeping Positions,” “Neck Pain Causes,” “Treatments for Spinal Tumors,” “Symptoms of a Spinal Tumor,” “Cervical Osteophytes: Bone Spurs in the Neck,” “Treatment For Back Pain.”

University of Maryland Medical Center: “Neck Pain Overview.”

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on January 13, 2017

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.