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Unraveling Source of Neck Pain Can Lead to A Better Recovery

Most people will have a minor neck problem at one time or another during their lifetime. Neck injuries mostly occur during sports or recreational activities, work-related tasks, or projects around the home. Determining the cause of your neck pain prior to treatment can lead to a quicker and safer recovery.

Neck pain may feel like a "kink," stiffness, or severe pain. This pain may spread to the shoulders, upper back, or arms, or it may cause a headache. Neck movement may be limited, usually more to one side than the other from the area at the base of the skull into the shoulders.

Neck pain is often caused by a strain or spasm of the neck muscles or inflammation of the neck joints. Pain from an injury may be sudden and severe. Bruising and swelling may develop soon after the injury. Severe injuries include:

  • An injury to the muscles in the neck, such as a sprain or strain. When neck pain is caused by muscle strain, you may have aches and stiffness that spread to your upper arm, shoulder, or upper back. Shooting pain that spreads down the arm into the hand and fingers can be a symptom of a pinched nerve. Shooting pain is more serious if it occurs in both arms or both hands rather than just one arm or one hand.
  • A fracture of the spine. This can cause a spinal cord injury that may lead to permanent paralysis. It is important to immobilize and transport the injured person correctly to reduce the risk of permanent paralysis.
  • A torn or ruptured disc. If the tear is large enough, the jellylike material inside the disc may leak out (herniate) and press against a nerve or the spinal cord. You may have a headache, feel dizzy or sick to your stomach, or have pain in your shoulder or down your arm.


Emergency care is required for a neck injury that causes damage to the spinal cord. Symptoms of a spinal cord injury include loss of movement or feeling, numbness, tingling, difficulty controlling the muscles of the arms or legs, or loss of bowel or bladder control.

Health Conditions That Cause Neck Pain
However sometimes neck pain may not be related to an injury.  

Arthritis or damage to the discs of the neck can cause a pinched nerve. Neck pain caused by a pinched nerve generally affects one side of the neck and the arm on that side. Other symptoms may develop, such as numbness, tingling, or weakness in the arm or hand.

Meningitis is a serious viral or bacterial illness that causes inflammation around the tissues of the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms come on quickly and include severe headache, stiff neck, fever, and sometimes vomiting. The neck stiffness makes it hard or impossible to touch the chin to the chest.

The flu, which usually is not serious, can cause symptoms similar to meningitis. When neck pain is caused by flu, the neck and the rest of the body tend to ache all over, but severe neck stiffness is absent.

Neck pain that occurs with chest pain may be caused by a serious problem with the heart, such as a heart attack.

Further stress and tension may make the muscles that run from the back of the head across the back of the shoulder feel tight and painful. You may not be able to move your head without pain.

Seeking relief from neck pain
Treatment for a neck problem or injury may include first aid measures, physical therapy, manipulative therapy (such as chiropractic or osteopathic), medicine, and in some cases surgery. The type of treatment you need depends on the source of pain, location, type, and severity of the injury. Further a person’s age, health condition, and activities also can impact the treatment plan. People should seek help from their doctor to determine the source or cause of the neck pain to ensure they get the correct treatment to properly relieve their discomfort.

Free Lecture
Join Dr. Chintan Sampat, orthopedic surgeon, for a free program on Dealing with Neck Injuries: Treatment Options to Improve Your Pain on Jan. 17, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Silver Cross Hospital’s Conference Center.  He will discuss common diagnoses that cause neck pain as well as pain and numbness in the shoulder and arms. Participants will learn prevention tips, exercises and treatment options that are available to relieve neck pain.  To register, call 1-888-660-HEAL (4325) or visit  


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