Pain located in the neck is a common medical condition. Neck pain can come from a number of disorders and diseases of any tissues in the neck. Examples of common conditions producing neck pain are degenerative disc disease, neck strain, neck injury such as in whiplash, a herniated disc, or a pinched nerve.
Neck pain can come from common infections, such as virus infection of the throat, leading to lymph gland swelling and neck pain.
Neck pain can also come from rare infections, such astuberculosis of the neck and bone infection of the spine in the neck (osteomyelitis and septic discitis), and meningitis (often accompanied by neck stiffness). Neck pain can also come from conditions directly affecting the muscles of the neck, such asfibromyalgia and polymyalgia rheumatica. Neck pain is also referred to as cervical pain.
Risk factors for neck pain include injury from involvement in contact sports, motor vehicle accidents, bull or bronco horse riding, etc. Prevention of neck pain in the context of these activities should include neck strengthening exercises and often neck bracing.
Neck pain is commonly associated with dull aching. Sometimes pain in the neck is worsened with movement of the neck. Other symptoms associated with some forms of neck pain include numbness, tingling, tenderness, sharp shooting pain, fullness, difficulty swallowing, pulsations, swishing sounds in the head, dizziness or lightheadedness, and lymph node (gland) swelling.
Neck pain can also be associated with headache, facial pain, shoulder pain, and arm numbness or tingling (upper extremity paresthesias). These associated symptoms are often a result of nerves becoming pinched in the neck.
For example, compressing the nerve of sensation to the back of the head, which comes out of the neck, causes headaches in the back of the head. Depending on the condition, sometimes neck pain is accompanied by upper back and/or lower back pain, as is common in inflammation of the spine from ankylosing spondylitis.
The most common cause of shoulder pain and neck pain is injury to the soft tissues including the muscles, tendons, and ligaments within these structures. This can occur from whiplash or other injury to these areas. Degenerative arthritis of the spine in the neck (cervical spine) can pinch nerves that can cause both neck pain and shoulder pain.
Degenerative disc disease in the neck (cervical spondylosis) can cause local neck pain. Abnormal conditions involving the spinal cord, heart, lungs, and some abdominal organs also can cause neck and shoulder pain.
Here are some examples:
- Broken collarbone: Falling on your outstretched arm can cause your collarbone to break. This is particularly common when cyclers fall off of their bicycles.
- Bursitis: A bursa is a sac over the joints to provide a cushion to the joints and muscles. These bursae can become swollen and painful after injuries.
- Heart attacks: Although the problem is the heart, heart attacks can cause shoulder or neck pain, known as "referred" pain.
- Broken shoulder blade: An injury to the shoulder blade usually is associated with relatively forceful trauma.
- Rotator cuff injuries: The rotator cuff is a group of tendons that support the shoulder. These tendons can be injured during lifting, when playing sports with a lot of throwing, or after repetitive use over a long time.
- Shoulder or A-C separation: The collarbone (clavicle) and shoulder blade (scapula) are connected by ligaments. With trauma to the shoulder, these ligaments can be stretched or torn.
- Whiplash injury: Injury to the ligamentous and muscular structures of the neck and shoulder can be caused by sudden acceleration or deceleration, as in a car accident.
- Tendonitis: The tendons connect the muscles to the bones. With strain, the tendons can become swollen and cause pain. This is also referred to astendinitis.
- Gallbladder disease: This can cause a pain referred to the right shoulder.
- Any cause of inflammation under the diaphragm can also cause referred pain in the shoulder.
The treatment of neck pain depends on its precise cause. Treatment options include rest, heat or cold applications, traction, soft collar traction, physical therapy (ultrasound, massage, manipulation), local injections of cortisone or anesthetics, topical anesthetic creams, topical pain patches, muscle relaxants, analgesics, and surgical procedures.
Home remedies for treatment, such as Jacuzzi treatment, neck pain relief exercises and stretches, and neck pain relief products such as neck pillows for sleep and hot pads can be very beneficial for relief of some forms of neck pain.
There are many treatment options, depending on the particular neck problem and past treatment experiences. Alternative treatments that have been used for chronic neck pain include acupuncture.