Neck pain, or cervicalgia, is pain or discomfort in the neck area ranging from the bones, tendons, ligaments, muscles, or even nerves of the neck. In many cases, neck pain is due to an acute injury or strain and will resolve within a week. However, severe and/or long-lasting neck pain may need to be examined by a healthcare provider and treated as appropriate. Neck pain is often caused by musculoskeletal problems, though underlying disease is also a possibility.
The complex structure of the spine means that stress or damage to many different areas can result in neck pain. In addition, aging is often accompanied by physiological changes that increase the risk of neck pain. Some common causes and risk factors are included below.
- Poor posture for long periods, especially when sitting at a desk
- Sleeping in a position where the spine is not aligned
- Injury or trauma in the neck area (e.g. whiplash)
- Carrying weight on only one shoulder
- Herniated cervical disc
Serious injury to the neck can lead to long-lasting damage. Seeking treatment early for neck pain can lead to greater improvement and faster recovery. In some cases, self-directed care such as stretching regularly and paying attention to posture, is sufficient. Therapeutic exercises can address musculoskeletal pain and stiffness. Traction therapy is used to realign the upper spine and relieve any compression, and electrical stimulation can provide pain relief. Surgery is rarely necessary to treat neck pain.