Acute vs. Chronic Neck Pain


Neck pain is common; however, the causes of neck pain are varied and diverse. Illness, muscle strain, nerve compression, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and whiplash are just a few examples of causes of neck pain. Depending on the cause, neck pain ranges from mild to severe and can be acute or chronic.

Acute neck pain

Acute pain is defined as pain that lasts less than four weeks. It may recur in some situations (e.g., after intensive exercise) but does not last longer than four weeks.

Acute neck pain usually occurs from an injury that causes tissue damage and inflammation (e.g., muscle strains, sports injuries, etc.). It tends to be sharp or intense before slowly calming over time. The purpose of acute pain is to protect the body from serious injury or further injury. If muscle strain is the cause of neck pain, treatment may consist of temperature therapy, massage therapy, physical therapy, and/or over-the-counter pain medications while the injury heals.

Chronic neck pain

Pain that lasts at least three months is considered chronic. Typically, chronic pain develops gradually, and the cause may or may not be evident. Medical conditions that may cause chronic neck pain include, but are not limited to, degenerative disc disease, cervical osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia. Treatment of chronic neck pain is dependent on pain severity and cause.

*If pain lasts longer than four weeks but less than three months, it is considered “subacute pain.”