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Neck Pain and Problems

What is neck pain?

The neck is located between the head and the shoulders. Because of its location and range-of-motion, it is often left unprotected and subject to injury.

What causes neck pain?

Photo of woman touching her neck

Neck pain can result from many different causes--from injury, to age-related disorders, or inflammatory disease. Causes of neck pain and problems may include the following:

  • Injury (damage to the muscles, tendons, and/or ligaments)

  • Herniated cervical disk

  • Arthritis (i.e., osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis)

  • Cervical disk degeneration

  • Congenital (present at birth) abnormalities of the vertebrae and bones

  • Tumors

How is neck pain diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for neck pain may include the following:

  • Blood tests. These tests can help determine the diagnosis of inflammatory disease.

  • X-ray. A diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of bones onto film.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body; can often determine damage or disease of internal structures within our joints, or in a surrounding ligament or muscle.

  • Computed tomography scan (also called a CT or CAT scan). A diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce both horizontal and vertical cross-sectional images (often called slices) of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general X-rays.

  • Electromyogram (EMG). A test to evaluate nerve function.

Treatment for neck pain

Specific treatment for neck pain will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Your diagnosis

  • Extent of the condition

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the condition

  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment may include:

  • Medication (to reduce inflammation)

  • Medication (to control pain)

  • Rest

  • Physical therapy

  • Neck brace or immobilization

  • Exercise

  • Surgery

Online Resources

AmericanAcademy of Orthopaedic Surgeons  http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00231
American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehab  http://www.aapmr.org/condtreat/pain/neck.htm
American Academy of Physicial Medicine and Rehabilitation  http://www.aapmr.org/patients/conditions/msk/spine/pages/overview-of-neck-pain.aspx
NIH Medline Plus  http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003025.htm

© 2000-2011 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.