Medically Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on January 24, 2021
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
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.
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. They may suggest exercises for your joints and muscles or recommend surgery to get rid of scar tissue that can damage your nerves.
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.
Treatment for Whiplash
Your doctor may recommend medication to help with the pain. They may also show you exercises to help your muscles. Most people recover within a few months.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, they may recommend radiation or chemotherapy treatment to destroy any remaining tumor cells.
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.
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.
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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.”