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What Are the Most Common Causes of Radiating Neck Pain?

A woman with radiating neck pain.
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  • Written By: Vicki Watson
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 07 March 2014
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Radiating neck pain has many possible causes, including whiplash or other injury, nerve issues, spinal disc issues, and muscle problems. Additionally, medical conditions such as fibromyalgia and arthritis are common causes of neck pain. Infections, such as meningitis, may cause this problem as well.

Injuries are a common cause of neck pain. For instance, an automobile accident may cause whiplash, which typically results in burning neck pain as the spinal accessory nerve is compressed beneath the trapezius muscle. Accidents may also cause a condition called spinal stenosis, wherein physical damage causes neck pain that radiates downward and into the right side of the body.

Strain to soft tissues, such as muscles, ligaments or tendons, may cause radiating neck pain as well. Should these tissues become irritated, burning, aching or swelling may occur. These kinds of conditions are usually easily remedied with anti-inflammatory medications or with topical remedies, such as ice packs. Soft tissue damage may be caused by an injury, illness, or repetitive behaviors, such as carrying a heavy shoulder bag or purse.

Bulging or slipped discs also are common causes of neck pain that radiates into the arms or down the spine. A medical professional may perform an MRI or X-ray to determine if any of these issues are the culprit.

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There are various autoimmune medical conditions that might include radiating neck pain as a symptom. For instance, fibromyalgia causes multiple tender points in the soft tissues and often causes chronic neck pain. This condition also causes rest disruptions, as pain often worsens while the patient is trying to sleep.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the joints. Common targets of the disease are joints in the hands, feet, and neck. RA also causes inflammation, causing pain to radiate from the damaged joints. Symptoms of the disease may come, go, and vary in intensity.

Meningitis is an infectious disease that causes the membranes around the brain and spinal cord to become inflamed. The disease causes pain and swelling throughout the neck and spine, and it can lead to serious complications, such as brain damage, permanent disability, or death.

Various types of neck pain require medical evaluation to determine appropriate treatment options. Ignoring ongoing neck pain is never a good idea since, over time, the underlying cause of the symptom may worsen and become more difficult to treat. Simple tests and an evaluation by a medical professional can best provide a patient with treatment options.

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Discuss this Article

burcinc
Post 3

@simrin-- Has he been to physical therapy?

My brother was in a similar condition ten years ago. He had the same symptom, neck pain radiating up into his head and down to the arms. After seeing about five different doctors, all he was able to figure was that he had muscle injury that had affected the nerves in his neck.

He was supposed either have surgery or go on pain management too but he's a strong-willed guy and decided that there has to be another option. He went to physical therapy for a long time, supporting with mild pain relievers when he had to. This helped immensely.

He also did a lot of research and did everything necessary to strengthen his neck muscles and back muscles. He also made sure to stay away from stress, eat healthy and keep his spirits up. He is doing so much better, has been off of pain relievers completely for the past five years. He only has very mild neck muscle pain now maybe one day out of the month. The doctors don't see a need for surgery any more.

SteamLouis
Post 2

My sister's husband has a pinched nerve in his neck and he's basically on pain management for the rest of his life. I think the technical term for a pinched nerve is radiculopathy. He has no idea exactly when it happened because he had several neck injuries in the past. He started getting a neck pain that radiated down to his arm very suddenly last year.

The MR showed that it's a pinched nerve and was all set up for surgery. But after finding out that there was a high chance of the surgery not being successful, he backed out. He's on pain relievers for now and it's working well. My sister doesn't like that he's taking medications all the time. Maybe he'll change his mind and give surgery a shot in the future.

I don't blame him, surgery can be scary and other complications could follow but I don't know how he puts up with the neck and shoulder pain which he describes to be 'excruciating' just with pain relievers.

burcidi
Post 1

My mom had radiating neck pain for some time after she had a car accident. She had stopped at a red light and a truck behind her couldn't stop and hit her from the rear. She developed a hernia in her neck from the accident.

The pain didn't happen right away though. I think it was several weeks after the accident that she started complaining of a radiating neck pain. She went to the doctor and was diagnosed with hernia. She took some muscle relaxants and pain relievers for immediate relief. But it was physical therapy that helped relieve the neck pain completely.

She has been doing well now, she still gets pain from time to time when she doesn't pay attention to her posture but it's rare. Swimming helps a lot too for some reason, not sure how.

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