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Neck Pain

Neck Pain

Neck pain is a common problem, and in most cases, the cause is not a serious medical concern. Because the neck is made up of a complex structure of muscles, bones, nerves, and other tissue, the potential causes for pain are numerous. Mild pain is relatively normal in people of all ages. In some cases, however, it may be an indicator of a more severe underlying problem.

What Causes Neck Pain?

Pain in the neck can often be attributed to poor posture or holding the neck in an awkward position for an extended period. Sometimes something as simple as sleeping in the wrong position can cause neck pain. In older adults, arthritis is a common source of pain that develops with age. In these cases, it usually is not an indication of a more severe problem. When pain is severe, shoots down the arm, causes numbness, makes it impossible to touch the chin to the chest, or causes changes in bowel or bladder habits, however, it is important to seek immediate medical attention.

Some of the most common causes of neck pain are injuries that cause damage to the muscles or vertebrae. Muscle strains are common as the result of overuse or holding the neck in an awkward position. Over time, strains to the muscles in the neck can lead to chronic pain. Injuries to the vertebrae may result in compressed nerves. Nerve compression may also be caused by stiffened disks, herniated disks, or bone spurs that occur as the result of age. Worn joints and arthritis can also cause pain in the neck. In rarer cases, neck pain can also be caused by cancerous tumors in the spine or meningitis.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Patients should seem prompt medical attention for neck pain that is severe or accompanied by other symptoms. Chronic pain should also be addressed. Determining the cause may require various types of diagnostic imaging such as X-rays, MRI's, or CT scans. The treatment for neck pain varies greatly depending upon the cause. Many problems can be treated with prescription pain medications, anti-inflammatory drugs, or muscle relaxers. Doctors may also recommend physical therapy of chiropractic treatment. In rare cases, surgery or other types of treatment may be required.


In most cases, neck pain is not a significant problem, and it is usually is not a symptom of a life-threatening condition. The exact prognosis varies depending upon the cause. Generally, the pain can be managed or eliminated.