Neck pain is a common complaint. Most causes of neck pain aren’t serious. Neck muscles can be strained from poor posture — whether it’s leaning into your computer at work or hunching over your workbench doing hobbies at home. Wear-and-tear arthritis also is a common cause of neck pain.
But sometimes neck pain can signify something more serious. 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
The precise location and severity of your neck pain provides important clues in determining what might be causing it. Make sure to tell your doctor if any head or neck movements make your neck pain better or worse.
Neck pain can result from a variety of causes, ranging from overuse injuries and whiplash to diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and meningitis.
Muscle strainsOveruse, such as too many hours hunched over a steering wheel, often triggers muscle strains. Neck muscles, particularly those in the back of your neck, become fatigued and eventually strained. When you overuse your neck muscles repeatedly, chronic pain can develop. Even such minor things as reading in bed or gritting your teeth can strain neck muscles.
Just like all the other joints in your body, your neck joints tend to experience wear and tear with age, which can cause osteoarthritis in your neck.
A variety of problems in your neck’s vertebrae can reduce the amount of space available for nerves to branch out from the spinal cord. Examples include:
Stiffened disks. As you age, the cushioning disks between your vertebrae become dry and stiff, narrowing the spaces in your spinal column where the nerves exit.
Herniated disks. This occurs when the inner gel-like material of a disk protrudes through the disk’s tougher outer covering. The protrusion can press on nerves exiting the spinal column, causing arm pain or weakness, or on the spinal cord itself.
Bone spurs. Arthritic joints in your neck can develop bony growths that may press on nerves.
Rear-end collisions often result in whiplash injuries, which occur when the head is jerked forward and then backward, stretching the soft tissues of the neck beyond their limits.
Neck pain can sometimes be caused by diseases, such as:
Rheumatoid arthritis. After the joints in the hands and the feet, the joints in the neck are the next most commonly affected by rheumatoid arthritis.
Meningitis. This infectious disease causes the lining of the brain and spinal cord to swell. One of the most common symptoms of meningitis is neck pain and stiffness.
Cancer. Rarely, neck pain can be caused by cancerous tumors in the spine. The cancer may have traveled to the spine from other parts of your body.