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Neck Pain [No Trauma]

X-ray image of a neck with labeled vertebrae.There are several possible causes of neck pain without injury:

  • You can get a minor ligament sprain or muscle strain from a sudden minor neck movement. Sleeping with your neck in an awkward position can also cause this.

  • Some persons respond to emotional stress by tensing the muscles of their neck, shoulders and upper back. Chronic spasm in these muscles can cause neck pain and sometimes headaches.

  • Gradual “wear and tear” of the joints in the spine can cause “degenerative arthritis.” This can be a source of occasional or chronic neck pain.

  • With aging or repeated small injuries to the neck, the spinal disks (the cushions between each spinal bone) may bulge and put pressure on a nearby spinal nerve. This causes tingling, pain or numbness spreading from the neck to the shoulder, arm or hand on one side.

Acute neck pain usually gets better in one to two weeks. Neck pain related to disk disease, arthritis in the spinal joints or spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal) can become chronic and last for months or years.

Unless you had a forceful physical injury (for example, a car accident or fall), X-rays are usually not ordered for the initial evaluation of neck pain. If pain continues and does not respond to medical treatment, x-rays and other tests may be performed at a later time.

Home Care:

  • Rest and relax the muscles. Use a comfortable pillow that supports the head and keeps the spine in a neutral position. The position of the head should not be tilted forward or backward. A rolled up towel may help for a custom fit.

  • Some persons find relief with heat (hot shower, hot bath or heating pad) and massage, while others prefer cold packs (crushed or cubed ice in a plastic bag, wrapped in a towel) . Try both and use the method that feels best for 20 minutes several times a day.

  • You may use acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) to control pain, unless another medicine was prescribed. [ NOTE : If you have chronic liver or kidney disease or ever had a stomach ulcer or GI bleeding, talk with your doctor before using these medicines.]

Follow Up

with your physician or this facility if your symptoms do not show signs of improvement after one week. Physical therapy or further tests may be needed.

[NOTE: A radiologist will review any X-rays or CT scans that were taken. We will notify you of any new findings that may affect your care.]

Get Prompt Medical Attention

if any of the following occur:

  • Pain becomes worse or spreads into one or both arms

  • Weakness or numbness in one or both arms

  • Increasing headache

  • Neck swelling, difficulty or painful swallowing

  • Fever of 100.4ºF (38ºC) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider


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