Most people will have a minor neck problem at one time or another. Our body movements usually don't cause problems. But sometimes symptoms can develop from everyday wear and tear, overuse, or injury. Neck problems and injuries most often occur during sports or recreation activities, work-related tasks, or projects around the home.
Neck pain may feel like a "kink," stiffness, or severe pain. Pain may spread to the shoulders, upper back, or arms. Or it may cause a headache. Neck movement may be limited, usually more to one side than the other. Neck pain means pain anywhere from the area at the base of the skull into the shoulders. The neck includes:
Neck pain may be caused by an injury to one or more of these areas. Or it may have another cause. Home treatment will often help relieve neck pain caused by minor injuries.
Neck pain is often caused by a strain or spasm of the neck muscles or inflammation of the neck joints. Examples of common activities that may cause this type of minor injury include:
Minor neck injuries may occur if you trip, fall a short distance, or twist your spine too much. Severe neck injuries may be caused by whiplash in a car crash, a fall from a high place, a direct blow to the back or the top of the head, a sports-related injury, a penetrating injury such as a stab wound, or external pressure applied to the neck, such as strangulation.
Pain from an injury may be sudden and severe. Bruising and swelling may occur soon after the injury. Acute injuries include:
Emergency care is required for a neck injury that causes damage to the spinal cord. Symptoms of a spinal cord injury include loss of movement or feeling, numbness, tingling, trouble controlling the muscles of the arms or legs, and loss of bowel or bladder control.
Neck problems may not be related to an injury.
Treatment for a neck problem or injury may include first aid, physical therapy, manipulative therapy (such as chiropractic or osteopathic), and medicine. In some cases, surgery is needed. Treatment depends on:
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
Pain in children under 3 years
It can be hard to tell how much pain a baby or toddler is in.
Pain in children 3 years and older
Symptoms of difficulty breathing can range from mild to severe. For example:
Severe trouble breathing means:
Moderate trouble breathing means:
Mild trouble breathing means:
Pain in adults and older children
Major trauma is any event that can cause very serious injury, such as:
Symptoms of serious illness may include:
Symptoms of a heart attack may include:
For men and women, the most common symptom is chest pain or pressure. But women are somewhat more likely than men to have other symptoms, like shortness of breath, nausea, and back or jaw pain.
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Do not move the person unless there is an immediate threat to the person's life, such as a fire. If you have to move the person, keep the head and neck supported and in a straight line at all times. If the person has had a diving accident and is still in the water, float the person face up in the water.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
After you call 911, the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength (325 mg) or 2 to 4 low-dose (81 mg) aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.
The possibility of a spinal injury must be considered anytime an accident involves the head, face, neck, or back. Permanent paralysis may be avoided if the injured person is kept from moving (immobilized) and is transported correctly.
If you think the person may have a spinal injury, do not move him or her unless there is an immediate threat to his or her life, such as a fire. If there is immediate danger, keep the person's head and neck supported and in a straight line while you move him or her to a safe place.
Do not remove the person from the water if he or she has been in a diving accident. Float the person face up in the water until help arrives.
Call 911 or other emergency services to transport the injured person if you think he or she may have a spinal injury. This will reduce the risk of more injury to the spinal cord.
Try the following tips to help relieve minor neck pain, swelling, and stiffness.
Keep doing your usual daily activities unless you have severe neck and back pain. Make changes to or avoid any activity that makes your pain worse.
Gently massage or rub the area to help relieve pain and to encourage blood flow. Don't massage the affected area if it causes pain.
Avoid slouching or a head-forward posture.
When you sleep, place a small support pillow under your neck, not under your head.
Do these exercises when the pain starts to get better. Don't do any exercises that cause pain.
If tension is adding to your neck pain, massage may help.
Smoking slows healing because it decreases blood supply and delays tissue repair.
Stretching should make you feel a gentle stretch, but no pain. Stop any strengthening exercise that makes pain worse.
Tilt your head toward your shoulder and hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Let the weight of your head stretch your muscles.
If you would like a little added stretch, use your hand to gently and steadily pull your head toward your shoulder. For example, keeping your right shoulder down, lean your head to the left.
Repeat 2 to 4 times toward each shoulder.
If you would like a little added stretch, use your hand to gently and steadily pull your head forward on the diagonal.
Repeat 2 to 4 times toward each side.
Slowly tuck your chin as you glide your head backward over your body
Hold for a count of 6, and then relax for up to 10 seconds.
Repeat 8 to 12 times.
The dorsal glide stretches the back of the neck. If you feel pain, do not glide so far back. Some people find this exercise easier to do while lying on their backs with an ice pack on the neck.
Raise both arms so that your hands are next to your ears.
Take a deep breath, and as you breathe out, lower your elbows down and behind your back. You will feel your shoulder blades slide down and together, and at the same time you will feel a stretch across your chest and the front of your shoulders.
Hold for about 6 seconds, and then relax for up to 10 seconds.
Call a doctor if any of the following occur during self-care at home:
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared for your appointment.
Current as of:
March 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: March 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2022 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.