Pain in the neck can be more than just a hassle. Neck pain can come from disorders and diseases of any structure in the neck. There are seven vertebrae that are the bony building blocks of the spine in the neck (the cervical vertebrae) that surround the spinal cord and canal. Between these vertebrae are discs and nearby pass the nerves of the neck. Within the neck, structures include the neck muscles, arteries, veins, lymph glands, thyroid gland, parathyroid glands, esophagus, larynx, and trachea. Disease of any of these structures can lead to neck pain, including cervical spinal stenosis, myofascial pain, ankylosing spondylitis, spinal tumor (rare), cervical foraminal stenosis, and spondylolisthesis.
Neck pain is medically referred to as cervicalgia.
Neck pain can be associated with
- neck soreness,
- sharp pain,
- radiating pain,
- numbness and tingling in the arms,
- muscle pain,
- stiff neck,
- throat pain,
- loss of bowel or bladder control,
- difficulty lifting or gripping, and
- weakness of the arms.
A review of our Patient Comments indicated that people with neck pain may also have coexisting symptoms. Some patients reported suffering headaches, neck stiffness and tenderness, and shoulder aches, while others felt as if their neck muscles were bruised or having muscle spasms. Others mentioned feeling groggy and tired. Read on to learn more about neck pain symptoms in our Patient Comments.
Other causes of neck pain
- Neck Gland Inflammation
- Nerve Entrapment in Neck
- Retropharyngeal Abscess
- Septic Disciitis (Rare)
- Trachea Inflammation (From Anesthesia Intubation, etc.)
- Virus Infection
Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.Next Article
Pictures, Images, Illustrations & Quizzes
Chronic Pain Syndrome: Treatment and Management for CPS
What is chronic pain syndrome (CPS)? See causes, symptoms and treatment options including medications. Learn about pain...
Pain Quiz: Test Your IQ of Pain
Is pain all in the brain? Take the Pain Quiz to learn everything you've ever wanted to know about the unpleasant sensation we...
Causes of Neck Pain
Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of arthritis that causes chronic inflammation of the spine. The tendency to develop ankylosing spondylitis is genetically inherited. Treatment incorporates medications, physical therapy, and exercise.
Arthritis (Joint Inflammation)
Arthritis is inflammation of one or more joints. When joints are inflamed they can develop stiffness, warmth, swelling, redness and pain. There are over 100 types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis, lupus, gout, and pseudogout.
Balamuthia mandrillarisis is an ameba that lives in dust and soil. Signs and symptoms of Balamuthia include fever, nausea and vomiting, light sensitivity, headache, stiff neck, and headaches. There are various diagnostic tests and medications that treat Balamuthia infection.
Broken Bone (Types of Bone Fractures)
A broken bone is a fracture. There are different types of fractures, such as: compressed, open, stress, greenstick, spiral, vertebral compression, compound, and comminuted. Symptoms of a broken bone include pain at the site of injury, swelling, and bruising around the area of injury. Treatment of a fracture depends on the type and location of the injury.
Degenerative Disc Disease & Sciatica
Degenerative disc disease makes the disc more susceptible to herniation (rupture) which can lead to localized or radiating pain. The pain from degenerative disc or joint disease of the spine is usually treated conservatively with intermittent heat, rest, rehabilitative exercises and medications to relieve pain, muscle spasm and inflammation.
Diffuse Idiopathic Skeletal Hyperostosis
Diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH or Forestier's disease) is a form of degenerative arthritis. It is characterized by calcification along the sides of the vertebrae of the spine. Symptoms include stiffness and pain in the upper and lower back. Anti-inflammatory medications are used to treat DISH.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition characterized by symptoms such as fatigue, sleep disturbances, and tender points. Stress reduction, exercise, and medication are the standard treatments for fibromyalgia.
Head and Neck Cancer
Head and neck cancer is cancer of the oral cavity, salivary glands, paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity, pharynx, larynx, or lymph nodes in the upper part of the neck. These cancers account for 3% to 5% of cancers in the U.S. Tobacco and alcohol use are important risk factors. Treatment may involve surgery, radiation therapy, and/or chemotherapy.
A herniated disc may be caused by injury or degeneration from age. Symptoms depend on the location of the herniation and whether nerve tissue is being irritated. An MRI or CT scan is performed to diagnose a herniated disc. Treatment may involve physical therapy, cortisone injection, pain medications, anti-inflammatory medications, muscle relaxants, and surgery.
Occipital Neuralgia (Headache)
Occipital neuralgia is a type of headache that involves inflammation or irritation of occipital nerves. Signs and symptoms include a stabbing and throbbing head pain, and an aching pain in the upper back of the head and neck. Potential causes include infection, irritation, or trauma of the occipital nerves. This type of headache is diagnosed by physical examination findings and imaging tests. Treatment involves a multidisciplinary approach that includes massage, rest, physical therapy, heat, muscle relaxants, and anti-inflammatory drugs. Invasive procedures and even surgery may be considered if first-line treatments fail to bring relief from the chronic pain of this type of headache.
Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis caused by inflammation, breakdown, and eventual loss of cartilage in the joints. Also known as degenerative arthritis. Osteoarthritis can be caused by aging, heredity, and injury from trauma or disease.
A pinched nerve causes pain, numbness, or tingling in the affected area due to pressure on a nerve. Caral tunnel and sciatica are two examples of conditions caused by a pinched nerve. A pinched nerve is diagnosed by taking a patient history and performing a physical examination. Electromyography may be performed. Treatment for a pinched nerve depends on the underlying cause.
Polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) is a disorder of the muscles and joints that causes pain and stiffness in the arms, neck, shoulders, and buttocks. Treatment for polymyalgia rheumatica aims to reduce inflammation with aspirin, ibuprofen, and low doses of cortisone medications.
Relapsing polychondritis is an uncommon, chronic disorder of the cartilage that is characterized by recurrent episodes of inflammation of the cartilage of various tissues of the body. Tissues containing cartilage that can become inflamed include the ears, nose, joints, spine, and windpipe (trachea). Tissues that have a biochemical makeup similar to that of cartilage such as the eyes, heart, and blood vessels, can also be affected. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) is used as treatment for mild cases of the disease. Steroid-related medications also are usually required.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the joints, the tissue around the joints, as well as other organs in the body. Because it can affect multiple other organs of the body, rheumatoid arthritis is referred to as a systemic illness and is sometimes called rheumatoid disease. The 16 characteristic early RA signs and symptoms include the following. Anemia Both sides of the body affected (symmetric) Depression Fatigue Fever Joint deformity Joint pain Joint redness Joint stiffness Joint swelling Joint tenderness Joint warmth Limping Loss of joint function Loss of joint range of motion Many joints affected (polyarthritis)
Shingles, or herpes zoster, is a painful rash caused by the varicella zoster virus. Other shingles symptoms include headache, fever, nausea, and body aches. Treatment focuses on pain management and shortening the duration of the illness with antiviral medications.
Shoulder and Neck Pain
Shoulder and neck pain may be caused by bursitis, a pinched nerve, whiplash, tendinitis, a herniated disc, or a rotator cuff injury. Symptoms also include weakness, numbness, coolness, color changes, swelling, and deformity. Treatment at home may incorporate resting, icing, and elevating the injury. A doctor may prescribe pain medications and immobilize the injury.
Sprains and Strains
An injury to a ligament is called a sprain, and an injury to muscle or tendon is called a strain. Sprains and strains may be caused by repetitive movements or a single stressful incident. Symptoms and signs include pain and swelling. Though treatment depends upon the extent and location of the injury, rest, ice, compression, and elevation are key elements of treatment.
Strep Throat (Treatment, Causes, Home Remedies)
Strep throat is a bacterial infection of the throat. Signs and symptoms of strep throat include headache, nausea, vomiting, sore throat, and fever. Strep throat symptoms in infants and children are different than in adults. Strep throat is contagious and is generally passed from person-to-person. Treatment for strep throat symptoms include home remedies and OTC medication; however, the only cure for strep throat are antibiotics.
There are four major types of thyroid cancer: papillary, follicular, medullary, and anaplastic thyroid cancer. Tumors on the thyroid are referred to as thyroid nodules. Symptoms of thyroid cancer include swollen lymph nodes, pain in the throat, difficulty swallowing, hoarseness, and a lump near the Adam's apple. Treatment usually involves chemotherapy, surgery, radioactive iodine, hormone treatment or external radiation and depends upon the type of thyroid cancer, the patient's age, the tumor size, and whether the cancer has metastasized.
A toothache is pain on or around a tooth. It may have a variety of causes, including a cavity, abscess, or even sinusitis. Toothache symptoms include pain, headache, earache, bad taste in the mouth, and gum swelling. Dental X-rays and other tests performed by a dentist are used to diagnose the cause of a toothache. Toothache treatment depends on the underlying cause. Taking proper care of the teeth and gums can help prevent toothache.
Whiplash is a common injury to a person's neck following a car accident (in most cases). Symptoms include: headache, neck pain, neck and shoulder stiffness, shoulder pain, fatigue, dizziness, jaw pain, arm pain, weakness of the arm(s), visual disturbances, and tinnitus. Diagnosis is generally with a physical exam, X-rays, or possibly an MRI. Treatment generally includes physical therapy and time.
Examples of Medications for Neck Pain
- acetaminophen (Tylenol, Tylenol Arthritis Pain, Tylenol Ext, Little Fevers Children's Fever/Pain)
- aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid, Bayer, Ecotrin, and others)
- celecoxib (Celebrex)
- hydrocodone/acetaminophen (Vicodin, Norco)
- ibuprofen (Advil, Children's Advil/Motrin, Medipren, Motrin, Nuprin, PediaCare Fever, and others)
- Ketorolac vs. diclofenac
- Ketorolac vs. ibuprofen (Advil)
- naproxen (Aleve, Anaprox, Naprelan, Naprosyn)
- Nonsteroidal Antiinflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
- OTC Pain Relievers and Fever Reducers
- rofecoxib, Vioxx
- Tramadol: for Pain (Ultram, Ultram ER, Conzip)
Back Pain Resources
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Subscribe to MedicineNet's General Health Newsletter