What Is Neck Pain?


The neck, or cervical spine, consists of vertebrae extending from the skull to the upper torso to support the head. It is made up of muscles, bones, ligaments and nerves and is the most flexible part of the spine. Inflammation, injuries and abnormalities can cause neck pain or stiffness.

Symptoms of neck pain

Although rare, neck pain may be a symptom of an underlying or serious condition. Seek medical care if pain is shooting into the shoulder or arm, or if numbness occurs in the arm or hand. Other symptoms include the following:

  • Pain that worsens when holding the head in certain positions
  • Muscle spasms or tightness
  • Pain when moving the neck
  • Decreased head or neck mobility or stiffness
  • Headache
  • Neck pain that is persistent, burning, sharp or stabbing
  • Sensitivity or pain from light pressure placed on the neck
  • Pain that radiates from the neck to other areas

Causes of neck pain

For an in-depth list of causes of neck pain, click here. Neck pain can result for various reasons, which include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Muscle strain. Stooping when using a smartphone or computer can trigger muscle strains. Grinding the teeth or reading in bed can also result in muscle strain.
  • Worn joints. The bones and joints in the neck tend to wear with age. Cartilage between the vertebrae begins to deteriorate and bone spurs can form.
  • Nerve compression. If bone spurs develop or discs become herniated, the neck can place pressure on nerves.
  • Injury. Injuries, such as whiplash, sport injuries, overuse, and heavy shoulder bags, can strain the soft tissue of the neck.
  • Other conditions. Rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, meningitis, spinal stenosis, infection, or cancer can cause neck pain.
  • Stress. Neck pain and stiffness can be caused by tightening the neck muscles when stressed.
  • Activities. Repetitive actions or strenuous activities may lead to neck pain.
  • Growths. Although rare, masses or tumors may develop and cause neck pain.

Risk factors

Certain factors increase the likelihood of developing neck pain. These include the following:

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