What are the Most Common Causes of Neck Pain?

Dan Cavallari

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.

An X-ray of the neck, including the cervical vertebrae.
An X-ray of the neck, including the cervical vertebrae.

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.

Poor posture while standing or sitting can lead to neck pain and spinal compression.
Poor posture while standing or sitting can lead to neck pain and spinal compression.

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.

Unnatural movements, trauma, or overuse can all lead to neck pain.
Unnatural movements, trauma, or overuse can all lead to neck pain.

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.

Neck ache can be caused by muscle strain.
Neck ache can be caused by muscle strain.
Although an ergonomic chair may help alleviate neck pain, it's still important to take stretch breaks throughout the day.
Although an ergonomic chair may help alleviate neck pain, it's still important to take stretch breaks throughout the day.
A herniated disc is a common source of neck pain.
A herniated disc is a common source of neck pain.
Neck pain can be caused from improper posture while using a computer.
Neck pain can be caused from improper posture while using a computer.
Issues of the spine, such as herniated discs, can contribute to neck pain.
Issues of the spine, such as herniated discs, can contribute to neck pain.

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Discussion Comments

ddljohn

I don't want to scare anyone but neck pain that doesn't go away may also be a sign of cancer. But of course, there will probably be other accompanying symptoms like lumps in the throat or swelling. Cancer also causes fatigue and weight loss.

A friend of mine was complaining with a lump in her throat and neck pain. It turned out to be thyroid cancer. She is thankfully fine now. Her thyroid had to be removed and she does have to take medication, synthetic thyroid hormones, for the rest of her life. But she's cancer free and has her health back. It's partly due to early diagnosis.

bear78

I think many people suffer from neck pain because of bad posture. Most of us who work at a desk don't even realize how bad our posture is. We arch our back and our neck sits forward. So a lot of pressure is applied on the neck and other areas that are not meant to take so much weight and pressure. Naturally, the result is back pain.

donasmrs

Something I learned recently is that because the spine is one complete unit, a problem in one part of the spine can cause pain in another part. I've been experiencing neck pain and stiffness lately. I found this strange as I don't have a neck problem and have never had one. I do have a lower back problem though and my doctor identified this as the cause of neck pain.

So when it comes to spinal issues, the cause of pain can actually be unpredictable. It's a good idea to see a doctor and get the necessary tests to figure where the problem is stemming from.

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