Types of Neck Pain – and What to Do About Them

Posted by Steffanie Campbell, M.D. on Aug 27, 2016, 10:00:00 AM

Neck pain can ruin a great day and rob you of a good night’s sleep. 

You ask your neck to do so much, supporting your head and gyrating into all sorts of positions. Chances are you take it for granted – until it starts to hurt. 

Neck Pain Often Caused by Muscle Strain


If your neck hurts, the most likely culprit is muscle strain. This usually is caused by:

  • Poor posture.
  • Holding your head in an awkward position, such as painting a ceiling.
  • Clinching neck muscles or grinding teeth.
  • Sleeping with your neck twisted or in an unusual position. 

Less common reasons for neck pain include:

  • Osteoarthritis. As we get older, cartilage between vertebrae breaks down, which may cause bone spurs and pain.
  • Nerve compression. Herniated disks or bone spurs can press on spinal cord nerves
  • Injury, such as a car accident or fall.
  • Rarely, neck pain is a result of disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, meningitis or cancer. 

Be Patient and Proactive 

If your aching neck is caused by muscle strain, it probably will improve over two or three weeks with rest and some simple home treatments. Try:

  • Over-the counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or naproxen.
  • Warm and cold compresses. You can alternate for 10 minutes each or use the one that helps you feel better.
  • Gentle stretching exercises.
  • Massage. 

Check with your doctor if you want to try alternative pain relief methods such as acupuncture or chiropractic. 

Get proactive to prevent neck pain in the future.

  • Watch your posture and take frequent stretching breaks if you sit a lot.
  • Be sure your pillow supports your neck and don’t sleep on your stomach.
  • Get in shape. Yoga and Pilates often are helpful for neck pain.
  • Curb anxiety and stress.


Watch for Warning Signs 

Usually, garden-variety neck pain doesn’t require a visit to a doctor, but keep an eye out for warning signs. 

Call 911 if you or someone else has:

  • Neck pain and chest pain or other signs of heart attack.
  • An injury followed by signs of spinal damage, such as inability to move part of the body or severe pain.
  • Weakness or paralysis of face, arms or legs. 

Call your doctor immediately if you:

  • Have new or worse numbness or weakness in arms or legs.
  • Lose control of your bladder or bowels.
  • Are awakened by pain.
  • Have neck pain that suddenly gets much worse, and you have not been more active. 

Contact your doctor if the pain:

  • Lasts more than three days with no relief.
  • Spreads down your arms or legs.
  • Is severe. 

What causes your neck pain? How are you treating it?


Dr. Steffanie Campbell specializes in Internal Medicine at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic – Pearland. Preventive care, individualized care plans and women’s health are her primary clinical interests.


Topics: neck pain, how to treat neck pain, neck pain treatments

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