Acute neck pain is very common and usually nothing to worry about. There is often a link be-tween neck pain and tense muscles, for instance after working at a desk for a long time, poor posture, prolonged use of a computer, or sleeping in an awkward position. But neck pain may also arise without an identifiable cause. It usually goes away within about one to two weeks. In some people it comes back again in certain situations, such as after work or intensive sports. Neck pain is considered to be chronic if it lasts longer than three months.

  • Symptoms

    There are different kinds of neck pain. It often occurs in a specific area. The medical term for this is “axial neck pain.” Radicular pain, on the other hand, is a type of pain that “radiates” along nerves – for example, up the back of the head or down into an arm. This can also affect reflexes and muscle strength in these areas and cause tingling or similar sensations. Radicular pain is usually caused by an irritated nerve root, for instance due to changes affecting a spinal disk.

    Neck pain is only very rarely a sign of a more serious condition or an emergency. It is important to seek urgent medical attention if you have neck pain in the following situations or together with the following symptoms:

    • Nerve problems and signs of paralysis such as difficulties moving your arm or fingers
    • After an accident
    • Pain that stays the same, whether you’re at rest or moving
    • Unintentional weight loss
    • Fever or chills
    • Loss of bladder or bowel control

    Other symptoms that require medical attention include persistent tingling sensations (“pins and needles”), frequent numbness in your hands or legs, leg weakness, and trouble keeping your balance when walking.

  • Treatment

    The most common types of mild to moderate neck pain usually responds well to self-care within two or three weeks. If neck pain persists, your doctor might recommend other treatments.

    Your doctor might prescribe stronger pain medicine than what you can get over-the-counter, as well as muscle relaxants and tricyclic antidepressants for pain relief.


    • Physical therapy. A physical therapist can teach you correct posture, alignment, and neck-strengthening exercises, and can use heat, ice, electrical stimulation and other measures to help ease your pain and prevent a recurrence.
    • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). Electrodes placed on your skin near the painful areas deliver tiny electrical impulses that may relieve pain.
    • Traction. Traction uses weights, pulleys or an air bladder to gently stretch your neck. This therapy, under the supervision of a medical professional and physical therapist, may provide relief of some neck pain, especially pain related to nerve root irritation.
    • Short-term immobilization. A soft collar that supports your neck may help relieve pain by taking pressure off the structures in your neck. However, if used for more than three hours at a time or for more than one to two weeks, a collar might do more harm than good.

    Surgical and other procedures

    • Steroid injections. Your doctor might inject corticosteroid medications near the nerve roots, into the small facet joints in the bones of the cervical spine or into the muscles in your neck to help with pain. Numbing medications, such as lidocaine, also can be injected to relieve your neck pain.
    • Surgery. Rarely needed for neck pain, surgery might be an option for relieving nerve root or spinal cord compression.