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Neck pain can come from several different parts of the neck such as the muscles, cervical spine bones, joints, discs, or nerves. Causes of neck pain can include prolonged poor postures, neck muscle strain, whiplash, old age associated cervical spine arthritis, spinal disc problems or a pinched nerve.
Whiplash is one type of neck injury which can occur during trauma such as a car collision or a fall where your head suddenly moves backwards then forwards. This motion can stretch neck muscles beyond their usual function and is associated with neck pain.
Neck pain is usually localised to the back of the neck. The pain can sometimes also include the back of the head with headaches or include the upper shoulder and back muscles. This pain may be continuous or intermittent. It is best to avoid activities that worsen the neck pain which might include turning your head all the way in one direction, prolonged poor postures or jarring exercises.
The neck pain may require more urgent medical attention if it is associated with new bowel or bladder problems, sudden onset of weakness, abnormal or loss of feeling in the arms or legs, or if associated with a trauma or a fall. Be sure to see a doctor if you have a history of cancer, have neck pain that wakes you from sleeping, or pain that is associated with fevers or unexplained weight loss.
You can try applying an ice or heat pack to the painful muscles or take over-the-counter pain relievers when necessary. Try to be aware of the neck postures and positions that worsen the pain and avoid them.
Your doctor might order a cervical spine x-ray, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan, or other imaging methods if you had trauma, other concerning symptoms, or if the neck pain is not improving with conservative treatments.
Not all causes of neck pain require imaging. If the pain persists, pain medications and physical therapy may be helpful. Physical therapy may include teaching you how to stretch and strengthen the neck muscles and scapular muscles (i.e. muscles of the shoulder blade), improve neck range of motion and improve posture and workstation ergonomics.