Neck pain is a surprisingly common cause for discomfort among adults. The pain is experienced in the neck itself or the surrounding areas, including the upper back, head, and shoulders. However, for most, neck pain occurs on the sides or back of the neck and is worsened by movement. Common symptoms include range-of-motion difficulties, sharp shooting pain, tingling, pulsing pain, spasms, tightness or stiffness, pain upon movement, and even dizziness. These symptoms are often paired with headache, and the pain may even radiate to the shoulder, back, or face.
Because the neck plays an important role in supporting the head, it may be vulnerable to strain and injury. There are several potential causes behind neck pain, the most common of which are explored below.
A compressed or pinched nerve occurs when there is pressure on the nerve. However, nerve symptoms from the neck are more often caused by inflammation combined with disc and joint changes that narrow the space where the nerve exits the spine. Repetitive movements or keeping a body part in the same position for prolonged periods can contribute to changes in the disc and/or facet joints over time. The nerve can also be compressed when it’s pressed between tendon, ligament, or bone tissues.
Herniated discs and bone spurs are often caused by injuries, rheumatoid arthritis, sports activities, and obesity. Nerve pain may radiate from the neck and down the shoulder and arm.
Joints in the neck wear down as the body ages, or as issues such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis develop. This wearing causes bone spurs that impede movement and cause neck pain. Issues related to joint deterioration in the neck include dull, achy pain and stiffness. Symptoms tend to worsen over time and deterioration may develop into osteoarthritis.
Neck pain is also a symptom of rheumatoid arthritis. If you develop neck arthritis, you’ll likely experience other symptoms, such as headache, muscle spasms in the neck and shoulders, weakness in the extremities, and popping or grinding upon turning your neck. For many arthritis patients, the only way to treat the pain, stiffness, and other symptoms is through physiotherapy for neck pain, which is effective for treating a wide range of neck issues.
Overuse or misuse of the muscles can cause strains of the neck’s soft tissues. Root causes of strain may include poor posture or hunching over while performing certain activities, consistently sitting, or lying in an awkward, unnatural position. Lifting a heavy object, experiencing a strong impact or fall (i.e. getting whiplash from a car accident), and performing strenuous activity can also lead to strain. In such cases, you’ll experience dull pain that increases as the inflammation worsens. Thus, you may not experience noticeable pain until at least a couple of days after the strain.