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Neck Pain

Is this your symptom?

  • Pain in the back, side, or front of the neck

Some Basics...

  • There are many causes of neck pain. Muscle strain and tension are common causes of neck pain.
  • Most people can treat mild neck pain at home.
  • People with severe neck pain should see a doctor.

Common Causes

  • Muscle Strain: new neck pain is often from strained muscles. This can be caused by sleeping in an awkward position or reading in bed. Another cause is holding a telephone between the neck and shoulder. Sitting in the front row at a movie or typing for a long time can strain the neck. Reaching for something or painting a ceiling can also cause neck strain.
  • Muscle Tension/Spasm: this is a common cause of new neck pain. It can happen to all people and is related to stress. The pain may shoot or spread into the upper back and scalp. People with this type of pain often say it is worse at the end of the day. Therapy for this pain focuses on stress reduction, good posture, and gentle neck exercises.

Pain Scale

  • None: no pain. Pain score is 0 on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Mild: the pain does not keep you from work, school, or other normal activities. Pain score is 1-3 on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Moderate: the pain keeps you from working or going to school. It wakes you up from sleep. Pain score is 4-7 on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Severe: the pain is very bad. It may be worse than any pain you have had before. It keeps you from doing any normal activities. Pain score is 8-10 on a scale of 0 to 10.

When to Call for Neck Pain

Call 911 Now

  • Very weak (can't stand)
  • You think you have a life-threatening emergency

Call Doctor or Seek Care Now

  • Head is twisting to one side (turning against your will)
  • You feel weak or very sick
  • You think you need to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Have cancer
  • Have HIV or use intravenous drugs
  • Tenderness or swelling of front of neck over windpipe
  • Neck pain shoots or spreads into arm or hand
  • You think you need to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • Neck pain lasts more than 2 weeks
  • You have frequent neck pain
  • More than 50 years old and you have not had neck pain like this before
  • Neck pain keeps you from working or going to school
  • Neck pain is not better after 3 days
  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Mild neck pain

Care Advice for Mild Neck Pain

  1. What You Should Know:
    • There are many causes of neck pain. Muscle strain and tension are common causes of neck pain.
    • With treatment, the pain most often goes away in 1 to 2 weeks.
    • You can treat mild neck pain at home.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Cold and Heat: For pain or swelling, use a cold pack or ice wrapped in a wet cloth. Put it on the sore area for 20 minutes. Repeat 4 times on the first day, then as needed. If pain lasts over 2 days, apply heat to the sore area. Use a heat pack, heating pad, or warm wet washcloth. Do this for 10 minutes, then as needed.
  3. Sleep: Sleep on your back or side, not your stomach. Sleep with a neck collar. Use a foam neck collar or a small towel wrapped around your neck. This keeps your head from moving too much while you are sleeping.
  4. Stretching Exercises:
    • After 48 hours of resting the neck, begin gentle stretching exercises.
    • Do 2-3 minutes of gentle stretching exercises per day such. These include touching your chin or ear to each shoulder and moving your head forward and backward.
    • Don't use any resistance.
  5. Pain Medicine:
    • You can take one of the following drugs if you have pain: acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve).
    • They are over-the-counter (OTC) pain drugs. You can buy them at the drugstore.
    • Use the lowest amount of a drug that makes your pain feel better.
    • Acetaminophen is safer than ibuprofen or naproxen in people over 65 years old.
    • Read the instructions and warnings on the package insert for all medicines you take.
  6. Good Body Mechanics:
    • Lifting: Stand close to the object to be lifted. Keep your back straight and lift by bending your legs. Ask for help if needed.
    • Sleeping: Sleep on a firm mattress.
    • Sitting: Avoid sitting for long periods of time without a break. Avoid slouching. Put a pillow or towel behind your lower back for support.
    • Computer screen: Put it at eye level.
    • Posture: Sit up straight.
  7. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Numbness or weakness
    • Bowel or bladder problems
    • Pain lasts for more than 2 weeks
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse
  8. Avoid: Avoid things that stress your neck. These include working with your neck turned or bent backward. Carrying heavy objects on the head or with one arm can hurt your neck. So can standing on your head, sports, or friendly wrestling.

And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.

Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.

Last Reviewed: 12/14/2019 1:00:29 AM
Last Updated: 3/14/2019 1:00:25 AM

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