Subject Contents

Neck pain

This symptom involves pain or discomfort in the neck.
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Alternative Names
Pain - neck; Neck stiffness
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Neck pain may originate from any neck structure ranging from the cervical vertebrae to blood vessels, muscles, and lymphatic tissue. This symptom can also originate from other areas of the body closely related to the neck, such as the upper arms. The location, onset, and pattern of the neck pain helps to determine its origin and underlying causes.
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Common Causes
  • Strain and spasm of the neck muscles
  • Most common cause
  • Neck pain in the morning may be the result of sleeping habits
  • Neck strain may follow an automobile accident
  • Meningitis, a rare, but potentially life-threatening condition, usually infectious, and considered when the neck pain is associated with documented
  • fever , neck stiffness, an aversion to light, and a severe headache
  • Arthritis
  • Neck injury
  • resulting in a "pinched nerve"
  • When this is the cause of neck pain, the pain may extend down the arm, or there may be a
  • numbness or tingling sensation in the arm or hand
  • Usually only one arm is affected
  • Certain types of
  • cancer , though this is rare
  • Certain thyroid conditions
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    Home Care
    Those with neck pain related to sleeping habits may improve by sleeping on a hard surface without a pillow. Warmth may relieve spasms and pain. Heat may be applied with hot showers, hot compresses, or a heating pad. Over-the-counter pain medications will help relieve pain and inflammation. Neck pain may be slow to improve, and may take several weeks to completely go away, so be patient.
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    Call your health care provider if
  • The pain does lasts for a week or more.
  • The pain is associated with
  • fever and headache , and the neck is so stiff that the chin cannot touch the chest.
  • The pain travels down one arm, or if there is
  • numbness or tingling in the arm.
  • There are painful or
  • swollen glands in the neck that do not clear up in a few days.
  • The neck pain is associated with weakness in one arm or hand.
  • The pain does not respond to standard doses of over-the-counter pain medication.
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    What to expect at your health care provider's office
    The medical history will be obtained, and a physical examination performed. Medical history questions documenting your neck pain in detail may include:
  • Location
  • Is it in the front part of neck?
  • Is it on the side?
  • Are both sides the same (symmetrical)?
  • Is it in the back of the neck?
  • Associated complaints
  • Did neck pain occur prior to the onset of brain/nervous system losses (
  • weakness , loss of speech, etc.)?
  • Can the chin be bent forward and touch the chest?
  • Time pattern
  • When did the pain first develop?
  • Is it there all the time or does it come and go?
  • If it comes and goes, is there a pattern to the occurrences?
  • Is it getting worse?
  • Other
  • What other symptoms are also present?
  • Is there neck weakness?
  • Is there
  • neck stiffness ?
  • Is there a
  • neck lump ? Diagnostic tests that may be performed include:
  • X-rays of the neck
  • CT scan of the neck
  • and/or head
  • Blood tests such as a complete blood count or a thyroid test
  • A spinal tap for a
  • cerebrospinal fluid analysis
  • Occasionally, an MRI of the neck
  • Intervention: If the pain is felt due to muscle spasm or a pinched nerve, the physician may prescribe a muscle relaxant and possibly a more powerful pain reliever . Prescription drugs are not necessarily better than over-the-counter medications. The doctor may prescribe a neck collar or, if there is nerve damage, refer you to a neurologist or neurosurgeon for consultation. If meningitis is suspected, the patient will be sent to an emergency department for further test, antibiotics, and hospital admission. If a thyroid condition is considered, follow-up care for abnormal blood tests will be needed. After seeing your health care provider: You may want to add a diagnosis related to neck pain to your personal medical record.
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