Definition of neck pain
Neck pain is a very common problem, affecting about 10 percent of the adult population at any single point in time. Neck pain can range from a dull ache to an electric-shock type of sensation. Other signs and symptoms that accompany neck pain, such as numbness or muscle weakness, can help pinpoint the cause of your neck pain.
Most neck pain lasts just a short time — a few hours or days. Neck pain that continues longer than several weeks is considered chronic. But even persistent neck pain can usually be helped by exercise, stretching, physical therapy and massage.
Causes of neck pain
Some causes of neck pain include:
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Carrying a heavy backpack or purse on one shoulder
- Cervical dystonia
- Cervical spondylosis
- Cradling your phone between your shoulder and neck
- Emotional stress
- Herniated disk
- Poor posture
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Sleeping on your stomach or with too many or too few pillows
- Spinal stenosis
- Tension headache
- TMJ disorders
- Trauma from accidents or falls
When to see a doctor
Neck pain caused by muscle tension or strain usually goes away on its own within a few days and doesn’t need medical care. To help relieve discomfort, try these self-care tips:
- Ice or heat. Apply an ice pack or bag of frozen peas to your neck for 15 minutes three or more times a day. Taking a hot shower or bath can help relax strained muscles.
- Stretching. Stretch your neck muscles by turning your neck gently from side to side and up and down.
- Massage. Rubbing the sore places in your neck can help relieve muscle spasms.
- Good posture. Practice good posture, especially if you sit at a computer all day. Keep your back supported, and make sure that your computer monitor is at eye level.
Schedule an office visit
Call your doctor if you experience:
- Neck pain that is getting worse in spite of self-care
- Neck pain that persists after several weeks of self-care
- Neck pain that radiates down your arms or legs
- A loss of control of your bowels or bladder
Seek emergency medical care
Call 911 or your local emergency number or have someone drive you to the emergency room if you have severe neck pain that’s associated with:
- Traumatic injury. Examples include car collisions, diving accidents or falls.
- Muscle weakness. Weakness in an arm or leg or trouble walking may be a sign of a more serious problem.
- High fever. If you have severe neck pain with a high fever, you might have meningitis, an infection of the membrane covering your spinal cord and brain.