Neck pain or cervical pain, which gives you a stiff neck, is a common ailment, and its symptoms cause severe discomfort, to the extent of making you stay absent from work. It can arise from different causes and relief is usually obtained from non-invasive treatment unless in severe cases, where the cervical bones get involved.

Headache and/or dizziness often accompany this pain. Many a time, neck and shoulder pain coexist.

To effectively treat neck pain, it is important to determine the underlying medical condition causing it. Once you treat the cause, the pain goes away.

Neck pain can be acute or chronic, and their causes tend to be different. The acute type is usually caused by short-term causes that tend not to be serious, such as poor positioning of the neck for prolonged periods.

Chronic neck pain is of longer duration and is caused by medical causes that could be serious.

According to the U.S. National Institute of Health Statistics, 15% of Americans are affected by neck pain at any given time. According to More magazine, about 70% of Americans experience this pain at some point in their life.

The pain in the neck can arise from different causes and relief is usually obtained from non-invasive treatment unless in severe cases, where the cervical bones get involved.

Anatomy of neck

The cervical vertebrae that form the uppermost part of the vertebral column, are situated one above the other with cartilage in between each of them. They are held in position by the various neck muscles

The cartilages between the vertebrae are flexible in nature and they prevent the vertebral bones from grinding against each other and also absorb shocks and distribute them.

They also facilitate the various movements of the vertebral column like bending or extension. The various nerves supplying the neck, the shoulders, and the hands, exit from between the various cervical intervertebral joints.

Neck pain causes and risk factors

A common cause of acute neck pain and stiffness is muscle strain, which arises from the wrong positioning of the head over long periods. This can happen from the following daily activities you perform:

  • Poor posture while watching television or reading. This happens especially if you have a habit of watching television or reading in a sleeping position. This is a common cause of this pain in children.
  • If you work on the computer regularly, improper positioning of the monitor screen can make you stoop. This position of the neck for a long period can strain your cervical muscles and cause pain and stiffness.
  • Writing on a desk while bending can cause cervical muscle strain
  • Pain in the neck from sleeping is a very common cause. Sleeping with a pillow, which keeps your head in an uncomfortable position, can give you pain.
  • A sudden vigorous turning or stretching of the head can strain a neck muscle and give you stiffness and pain.
  • Whiplash is another common cause. It is caused by sudden forward or backward movement of the neck. This extensive and sudden movement tears the cervical muscles. This type of pain is seen in motor car and railway accidents.
  • Cycling on a regular basis and for long distances has given many cyclists neck pain. If you see the position of the body when cycling, you will find that the spine is flexed while the neck is in an extended position. There is no alignment between the lower spine and the neck. This puts a tremendous strain on the cervical muscles, which causes neck stiffness and pain.

Other serious causes of neck pain

There are other serious causes that can give you chronic pain in the neck. These are due to pathological reasons.

  • Cervical spondylosis is a condition where due to weakened neck muscles, the adjacent cervical vertebrae lose their normal intervertebral spacing and compress or pinch the nerve coming out from the spinal cord.
  • Cervical arthritis is inflammation of the intervertebral joints
  • Damaged intervertebral disc or a cervical herniated disc
  • Fractures of the cervical vertebra due to trauma or osteoporosis
  • Tumors, malignant or benign,  in the neck area can cause swollen glands
  • Osteomyelitis of the cervical vertebra or any infection in the neck area including the formation of the abscess
  • Fibromyalgia is a condition in which there is tenderness in the bones, joints, muscles, and other soft tissues of the body. This causes pain in the cervical bones
  • Degenerative disc disease is a condition, in which the intervertebral disc degenerates with age.
  • The pain of a heart attack often radiates to the neck and can manifest as neck pain.
  • Meningitis gives rise to neck stiffness and pain