Chronic Neck Pain
(Neck Pain, Chronic)
Chronic neck pain is pain in the neck over a long period of time. It usually lasts more than three months. The pain can range from mild to severe.
Nerve Pain in Neck
Chronic neck pain can be caused by a number of conditions, including problems with the muscles, nerves, or bones.
Factors that may increase your risk of chronic neck pain include having:
Chronic neck pain may also cause you to have neck stiffness. Pain may be worse when moving your neck. The pain can be any type of pain including burning, sharp, dull, and tingling. The pain may spread to other parts of the body such as the shoulders and arms.
Muscles of the Neck
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may be referred to a specialist. Orthopedists specialize in bones and joints. A neurologist or neurosurgeon specializes in the nerves and spinal cord.
Images of your spine may be needed. This can be done with:
Your nerve and muscle function may need to be measured. This can be done using electromyography (EMG).
Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. Options include the following:
Activity and Exercise
You may be able to decrease your pain by staying active and exercising. Your doctor may also refer you to a physical therapist. A therapist may work on strength exercises and stretching.
There are many different medications that may be used the help you manage your neck pain.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID)—to treat the pain and reduce inflammation
- Acetominophen—to treat pain
- Certain antidepressant medications—sometimes used for neck pain
- Certain antiseizure medications
- Corticosteroid injection—to treat the pain and reduce inflammation caused by disk disease
There are other treatments that might be helpful for neck pain.
- Low-level laser therapy— a light source is directed on the painful area
- Electrotherapy treatments, such as repetitive magnetic stimulation, and nerve and muscle stimulation
- Chiropractic care
- Intermittent traction (pulling on the neck)
Most cases of neck pain are treated medically. In some cases surgery is needed. The type of surgery will depend on the cause of pain. For example, if you have a herniated disk in your neck, surgery will remove the disk.
To help reduce your chance of getting neck pain, take the following steps:
- Maintain good posture.
- Take breaks from activities that do not involve movement such as driving or working at a computer.
- Avoid sleeping with too many pillows.
- Get plenty of exercise.
- Make sure your desk chair and keyboard are at proper heights.
- Avoid cradling the phone in your neck.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
Langevin P, Lowcock J, Weber J, Nolan M, Gross AR, Peloso PM, Roberts J, Graham N, Goldsmith CH, Burnie SJ, Haines T; Cervical Overview Group. Botulinum toxin intramuscular injections for neck pain: a systematic review and metaanalysis. J Rheumatol. 2011;38(2):203-214.
Misailidou V, Malliou P, et al. Assessment of patients with neck pain: a review of definitions, selection criteria, and measurement tools. J Chiropr Med. 2010 Jun;9(2):49-59.
Neck pain. American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/health-tools/search-by-symptom/neck-pain.html. Accessed September 11, 2014.
Neck pain. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00231. Updated December 2013. Accessed September 11, 2014.
Neck pain. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated July 18, 2014. Accessed September 11, 2014.
What a pain in the neck! American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation website. Available at: http://www.aapmr.org/patients/conditions/msk/spine/Pages/Prevent-Neck-Pain.aspx. Accessed September 11, 2014.
12/31/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Chow RT, Johnson MI, Lopes-Martins RA, Bjordal JM. Efficacy of low-level laser therapy in the management of neck pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised placebo or active-treatment controlled trials. Lancet. 2009;374:1897-1908.
12/17/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Andersen LL, Christensen KB, Holtermann A, et al. Effect of physical exercise interventions on musculoskeletal pain in all body regions among office workers: a one-year randomized controlled trial. Man Ther. 2010;15(1):100-104.
11/11/2013 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about: Kroeling P, Gross A, et al. Electrotherapy for neck pain. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Aug 26;8.
Last reviewed August 2014 by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.