Neck pain is defined as discomfort arising from any of the structures of the neck, including:

  • Muscles
  • Nerves
  • Vertebrae
  • The cushioning discs in between the vertebrae

Neck pain may also originate from areas near the neck, such as the:

  • Shoulder
  • Jaw
  • Head
  • Upper arms

While neck pain is usually described based on its location, rather than its cause, the University Spine Center experts will work with you diagnose your precise problem.

Causes of neck pain

A common cause of neck pain is muscle strain that can occur when we spend too much time doing things that put stress on our neck. These things might include hunching over a steering wheel or sitting at a computer. Other causes might be an overuse injury, such as playing sports or doing strenuous chores.

Neck pain can also be triggered by arthritis, which can occur in the bones of the neck. Arthritis can cause pain, inflammation and stiffness.

Another common cause of neck pain is nerve compression. If the amount of space available for nerves to branch out of the spine is reduced, it can compress or “pinch” the nerve and cause pain. There are many things that can lead to nerve compression, including:

  • Stiffening of the discs that cushion the vertebrae (this happens with aging)
  • Herniated or ruptured disks (this typically causes arm pain and weakness)
  • Bone spurs or bony protrusion around the neck that crowd out nerves
  • Injuries, such as whiplash
  • Diseases
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Meningitis
  • Infection of the spine
  • Cancer involving the spine

When to visit University Spine Center

Neck pain can be mild, but it may also be a serious medical emergency. Seek immediate medical care if you experience:

  • Shooting pain into your shoulder or down your arm
  • Numbness or loss of strength in your arms or hands
  • Change in bladder or bowel habits
  • Inability to touch your chin to your chest

Diagnosis of neck pain

University Spine Center has successfully treated countless people with neck pain. The first step involves getting an accurate diagnosis. This includes identifying what and where it hurts as well as what is causing the problem. Getting a diagnosis typically involves these steps:

  • Physical examination
  • Medical history
  • X-rays or other imaging tests

University Spine Center will guide you through the entire process and answer all of your questions.

Treating neck pain

When treating neck pain, University Spine Center seeks to manage the pain and treat the cause. Your physician may recommend one or a combination of treatments, including:

  • Medication
  • Exercise and massage
  • Temperature therapy (heating pads or ice packs)
  • Relaxation
  • Posture improvement
  • Proper support in your chairs and mattress
  • Adjustments to working environment (proper chair height, computer set-up,etc.)
  • Physical therapy
  • Aquatic therapy

Besides getting pain relief, you may need to address the cause of your neck pain. In some cases, your body may be able to heal naturally over time, particularly with proper care and support. In other cases, you may require special treatment. Your University Spine Center team can help you find the right course of treatment.