Causes and Prevention of Neck Pain

CausesNeck PainPrevention

Dr. Kaliq Chang explains why we have neck pain and offers tips to avoid it.

Neck pain is very common and often preventable, according to Kaliq Chang, MD, of Atlantic Spine Center. Comprised of bony vertebrae stretching from the base of the skull to the upper torso, the neck (known medically as the cervical spine) can hurt for many reasons, explains Dr. Chang, an interventional pain management specialist. And when it does, discomfort can take many forms including a dull ache, shooting or pulsing pain, tenderness, and even numbness and tingling.

“Neck pain can also worsen when we turn our heads or move our neck in other ways,” Dr. Chang says. “Since cervical discs between the vertebrae absorb shock and bones, ligaments and muscles in the neck help our heads move, there are many small and large ways this process can go wrong, leading to neck pain.”

Neck pain triggers

With numerous possible triggers, neck pain typically stems from 3 primary causes: injury, inflammation, or other abnormalities in that part of the body, Dr. Chang notes. Problems and conditions that can cause neck pain include:

  • Arthritis
  • Neck injuries such as whiplash
  • Pinched nerves
  • Poor posture
  • Sleeping in a bad position
  • Staying in one position for too long
  • Herniated spinal discs
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Jerking the neck during movement or exercise
  • Lymph node swelling due to infection
  • Fibromyalgia or other conditions affecting neck muscles

“Clearly, neck pain causes are quite diverse and not always easy to pinpoint,” Dr. Chang says. “That’s why seeing a doctor if it lasts weeks or longer without easing is a wise move.”

Ways to prevent neck pain

It’s common sense, of course, that preventing neck pain is far preferable than relieving it after it’s occurred. While not every possible cause of neck pain is avoidable, Dr. Chang says, he offers these tips to prevent it:

  • Avoid slouching and practice good posture.
  • Place your computer screen at eye level, with a document holder that positions your work at screen level.
  • Avoid cradling your phone between your shoulders and neck.
  • Make sure your bed pillow keeps your neck straight.
  • Exercise your neck each day by slowly stretching it up and down and side to side. “Consistently stretching your neck muscles help keep them toned and strong,” Dr. Chang explains.
  • Carry heavy objects evenly instead of relying more on one side of the body.
  • Avoid jerking motions during sports and other maneuvers to minimize the risk of neck injury.

“The good news is that neck pain almost always results from a minor problem that improves within days,” Dr. Chang says. “Almost all of us will experience a ‘pain in the neck’ here and there, but it doesn’t usually last.”