What Causes a Neck Ache?

Susan Grindstaff

Neck ache is usually caused by injury or strain of the muscles or tendons in the area of the neck, but can also be related to an injury to the spine. With spinal cord injuries, the actual injury does not have to be in the immediate area of the neck to result in neck pain. Other causes of neck ache can be diseases such as meningitis or cancer.

Although neck aches can be caused by multiple things, doctors can perform x-rays to determine the exact cause.
Although neck aches can be caused by multiple things, doctors can perform x-rays to determine the exact cause.

Is is estimated that more than 50% of all people will at one time or another suffer from a condition referred to as a “crick” in the neck. A crick is typically characterized by an abrupt and often intense neck ache that can cause pain so severe that movement of the neck may become severely limited. The condition can last for hours or even days. Medical research has been unable to come to a universal consensus over what exactly causes “cricks,” but it is believed to be the result of damage to a joint in the neck area called the facet joint. Recommended treatment for this condition is typically pain medication and hot compresses.

Neck ache can be caused by injury to the spinal cord.
Neck ache can be caused by injury to the spinal cord.

Spinal cord injuries that can lead to neck ache are most often associated with sprains in the muscles or tissues surrounding the spine. Whiplash is a common type of spinal cord injury that can cause severe, long-lasting neck pain. A jerking forward motion of the neck typically causes it, particularly when the rest of the body is held in place. This type of injury is often seen in automobile accidents. Sometimes neck ache that is the result of whiplash can last for months or even years.

Neck ache can be caused by muscle strain.
Neck ache can be caused by muscle strain.

Sometimes the underlying cause of neck ache is attributed to disease or infection. Meningitis is an infection involving the brain and spinal cord. It is usually caused by a virus, but can sometimes be the result of a bacterial infection. Viral meningitis usually lasts for about two weeks and is not considered life threatening, however, bacterial meningitis is usually a serious condition that can result in death if it is not promptly treated. Both types of meningitis typically cause severe pain and stiffness in the neck, typically accompanied by high fever and vomiting.

Car accident injuries are the most common cause of whiplash, which leads to head, neck and back pain.
Car accident injuries are the most common cause of whiplash, which leads to head, neck and back pain.

Doctors generally need to identify the cause of pain in the neck before attempted treatment. This is often done by using x-rays or ultrasounds. Neck injuries are often treated by bracing the neck to constrict movement while the injury heals. Other causes of neck pain, such as meningitis, may be treated using antibiotics and pain medication.

Sleeping in awkward positions may cause a person to have a neck ache.
Sleeping in awkward positions may cause a person to have a neck ache.
Holding the neck in an awkward position for a prolonged period may result in a neck ache.
Holding the neck in an awkward position for a prolonged period may result in a neck ache.

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Discussion Comments

anon252645

I woke up a week ago in total agony with neck pain so severe I can barely move. It's impossible to move my head, especially downward towards my chest. I've been to the doctor today and was told it's a virus.

I'm eight weeks pregnant so I can't take any medication. I'm in agony but have no other symptoms. I'm now worried about the baby and if it could have been affected by this virus. Any reassurance would be greatly appreciated.

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