Chronic or acute neck pain afflicts millions of people each year. In the United States, pain in the neck is the eighth leading cause of disability and accounts for more than 10 million ambulatory medical care visits each year, according to research summarized in the Annals of Family Medicine.
Although many people are tempted to dismiss their neck pain as the product of sleeping in a strange position, there are many different causes and options to address the pain. If you have been experiencing neck pain for longer than a week (or if the pain was caused by a fall or an injury), get evaluated by a trusted medical practitioner before pursuing any course of treatment.
What causes neck pain?
Neck pain can be caused by a range of issues, such as muscle strains, arthritis, and injury. Certain diseases also contribute neck pain, although this happens less frequently.
Most commonly, neck pain can be attributed to muscle strain and sprains caused by overuse and poor posture. These activities may include:
- Too many hours hunched over a steering wheel
- Reading in bed
- Hunching over a desk for hours
- Watching TV
- Gritting your teeth
- Computer monitor positioned too high or too low
- Jarring your neck while exercising (particularly lifting weights).
When whiplash occurs as a result of a car accident or similar injury, neck pain frequently appears and the pain may also radiate into muscles in the head, chest, shoulders, and arms. Depending on the severity of the whiplash injury, the symptoms can last a few weeks or develop into chronic neck pain.
For older patients, neck pain may develop as a result of long-term wear and tear on your joints, as with conditions like osteoarthritis. It may also stem from some kind of nerve compression, stemming from a herniated disc or from bone spurs in the vertebrae of your neck which press on the nerve.
In comparatively rare cases, neck pain may also be a symptom of a broader illness, such as:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
Sources: Mayo Clinic: Neck Pain Causes
Medline Plus: Neck Pain. US National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health.