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Why Do People Have Neck Pain?

Your neck is one of the most unprotected and exposed areas of your body. This is because of where it’s located and because of how far it moves from side to side (its range of motion). Because of these reasons, you have a higher chance of injuring your neck than other parts of your body.

People can have different types of neck pain. Some have only mild or irritating pain, while others can have severe, long-lasting pain that prevents them from doing day-to-day activities like working or going to school.

It can be hard to know when you should see a doctor for neck pain. Whether you should see a doctor depends on if your pain is affecting your daily life, or if your pain makes it easier to injure or hurt your neck in the future.

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What Can Cause Neck Pain?

There are a lot of different causes for neck pain. These range from injury and inflammatory disease to simply getting older. Neck pain can also be caused by the following:

  • Injuries in your ligaments, tendons, or muscles
  • Ruptured (herniated) disks in your neck
  • Arthritis (examples include osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis)
  • Break down of the disks in your neck (the cervical disks in your spine)
  • Tumors
  • Problems with the spine vertebrae—or bones— that are congenital (present at birth)

Neck Pain Symptoms

Neck pain may feel different from person to person. If you have pain in your neck, it may feel:

  • stiff,
  • sharp,
  • tender,
  • like it is has spasms, or
  • like it’s burning or tingling.

Some people with neck pain can also have weakness in their arms or hands. Neck pain can cause headaches. It can also cause pain from your neck to travel down to your back.

Is Neck Pain Serious?

Many people have neck pain that doesn’t need treatment or can be managed with over the counter medicines like ibuprofen. Doctors recommend treatment if pain is interfering with your day-to-day life.

If you have numbness or lose strength in your hands or arms, you should see a doctor. You should also see your health care provider if you have shooting pains in your shoulder or shooting pains that travel down your arm.

You should also see a doctor if you get sudden, severe pain in your neck. You may have an injury or herniated disk that needs treatment.

Neck Pain Treatment

Doctors will recommend a variety of treatments based on how long you’ve had pain and how severe it is. Treatments may include the following:

  • Rest
  • Exercise
  • Physical therapy
  • Massage therapy
  • Neck braces of other devices that keep your neck from moving
  • Osteopathic manipulation
  • Or medicines like ibuprofen to lower inflammation and manage pain

If none of these treatments work and you’ve been trying conservative treatments for a while, your doctor may recommend surgery to fix the underlying cause of your neck pain.

Schedule an Evaluation

If you are worried about your neck pain and wonder if you need treatment, you can schedule an evaluation with one of our spine specialists. Our doctors will help you develop an individualized treatment plan that meets your unique symptoms and needs.

Resources for Our Patients

When Should You See a Doctor for Your Neck and Back Pain?

Neck and back pain are common, but if you have recurring pain, you might wonder if there's something going that's contributing to your chronic cricks. Surgery should be a last resort. You should also ask yourself these questions before considering surgery.

Listen (5 min.)

Upper Back or Neck Pain? Maybe Your Spinal Cord is Being Compressed

Are you noticing a combination of neck or upper back pain and a tingling or slowing in the reaction time of your arms and legs? It could be a compression of your spinal cord, also known as cervical spondylotic myelopathy (CSM). 

Listen (7 min.)