ZocdocAnswersWhat are the causes of neck pain?

Question

What are the causes of neck pain?

What can cause neck pain? The other morning, I woke up and could hardly turn my head in either direction. It has slowly gotten better ever since, but that definitely got me scared. I haven't been in an accident any time recently, so why would neck pain just flare up like that?

Answer

Neck pain is an extremely common problem. It typically is short-lived and self limited. By far the most common cause in relatively healthy younger adults is strain of the muscles along the sides or back of the neck. This can come about from overuse or excessive tension on these muscles, or can even arise from sleeping in the wrong position. Many people describe getting a "crick in the neck" after sleeping upright in the back seat of a car, for example. Sometimes people have been applying undue tension, such as by hunching their shoulders for prolonged periods, or carrying excess weight, such as a back pack or overstuffed coat. Frequently, these muscles can cramp and contract excessively, from either strain (as discussed above) or in the context of electrolyte deficiencies from not eating enough fruits and vegetables. In older adults, arthritis of the joints of the neck increases in frequency, though muscle spasm and strain is still common. In many cases, a simple anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen can provide relief of arthritis or muscular spasm, though the backbone of therapy is stretching, heat, and massage. If your pain is improving on its own, you probably have little to worry about. If it happens again or persists, it is probably a good idea to see your doctor to determine the cause. Based on your medical history, he or she should be able recommend a course of treatment that will get you feeling better as soon as possible.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under Zocdoc’s Terms of Service.