Neck pain affects most people at some point in their life and is common in all age groups. There are many causes of neck pain, including posture (such as leaning over a work bench all day), muscle strains, injuries (such as whiplash), degenerative disc disease, herniated discs, stenosis (narrowing of the space around the nerves), and arthritis, among other things. Most neck pain will resolve after several weeks, but if it persists or is associated with symptoms in the arms, evaluation by a doctor is often the next step. Arm pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness that accompanies neck pain can suggest a pinched nerve, and a doctor should be consulted.
Neck pain can cause a variety of symptoms but is most commonly an ache in the neck. At times the pain can be sharp, and the intensity of pain may be associated with certain activities or particular times of the day. The neck pain may radiate down to the shoulders, causing tightness in the shoulders and neck. On the other hand, it can also lead to headaches. There may be arm pain, numbness, or tingling that is associated with neck pain and may be caused by pinched nerves in the neck.
One of the more common causes of neck pain is muscle strains that can be caused by a single injury or repetitive use injuries, including whiplash. These injuries can take 1-2 months to heal at times, depending on the severity of the soft tissue damage.
X-rays show bones and may be recommended if the pain has persisted longer than 4 weeks. In young patients, x-rays are generally normal, while in older patients the imaging may show arthritis, which is a common cause of neck pain.
With persistent neck pain that is unbearable or has lasted longer than a month, an MRI may be recommended. MRI scans, unlike x-rays, have the ability to illustrate degenerative disc disease and pinched nerves.
Neck pain may be prevented by avoiding the following: improper lifting, excessive body weight, repetitive strenuous activity, and smoking. However, many of the contributing factors are due to age and genetics and are not preventable.