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What Are the Most Common Causes of Neck Pain?

An X-ray of the neck, including the cervical vertebrae.
A woman with neck pain.
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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 19 March 2014
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    Conjecture Corporation
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The neck is part of the spine, so many common spinal issues are causes of neck pain. The more common causes of neck pain include muscle strains due to unnatural movements, overuse, or direct trauma. Muscle stiffness can also cause pain in the neck, which can result from holding the head and neck in one position for a long period of time, or from moving the neck unnaturally for long periods of time. Poor posture while standing or sitting can lead to muscle aches in the neck, as well as spinal compression that can cause nerve pain.

Sitting for long periods of time at a computer desk can be one of the leading causes of neck pain. If the position of the neck is not ergonomically correct, the muscles that support the head are likely to tire. When muscles tire, they tend to tighten, causing pain in the neck as well as headaches and even shoulder aches. To alleviate such pain, one might consider purchasing an ergonomic chair that supports the neck and shoulders, as well as the lower back. If an ergonomic chair is not a viable option, one should consider moving the computer screen either higher or lower to ensure the head and neck are in proper position when looking at the screen for long periods of time.

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Issues with the spine can also be one of the leading causes of neck pain. Spinal compression and herniated discs are common, especially among athletes. A herniated disc occurs when the gel-like fluid between vertebrae — known as the spinal disc — ruptures and essentially leaks out from between the vertebrae. The fluid can then place undue pressure on the nerves that run near the spine, causing pain in the region that the nerve services. A disc herniation can be treated with rest and light stretching, but more severe cases may require surgery to repair the rupture.

Muscle strains occur when the tiny fibers of the muscle begin to tear due to overstretching or unnatural twisting. One of the most common causes of neck pain, a muscle strain is treated with the RICE method — Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation — and is usually healed within several days or weeks. Light stretching and exercise can help re-strengthen the muscle and improve mobility lost during recovery. In more severe instances of a muscle strain, a complete rupture of the muscle may occur. Such a rupture often requires surgery to repair, and the recovery time will be significantly longer.

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