of North Americans suffer from episodes
of acute or persistent neck pain each
year as a result of injury, strain,
overuse or aging. However, a pain
in the neck should not be ignored
and left undiagnosed and untreated.
Problems in the cervical spine, the
first seven bones (vertebrae) in the
neck running from the base of the
brain to just past the shoulder blades,
require assessment and treatment to
prevent further, more permanent, damage.
While neck pain (in the cervical spine) is less common than
lower back pain (in the lumbar spine), millions of people
experience neck pain and/or related arm pain at some point
in their life.
The vast majority of episodes of neck pain will get better
with time and can be addressed with non-surgical treatments.
However, there are a few symptoms that are possible indications
of a serious medical condition and patients with these symptoms
should seek medical attention immediately.
neurological deficit (weakness in the arms or loss
of feeling and coordination in the arms or legs) could
indicate nerve damage.
If sustained or increasing pain is accompanied by
lack of appetite, unplanned weight loss, nausea and
vomiting, or fever/chills/shakes, there could be a
spinal tumor or infection.
While many episodes of neck pain have no identifiable
anatomical cause, certain types of neck pain and arm
pain can be linked to a general cause (such as muscle
strain) or a diagnosable condition (such as cervical
herniated disc or cervical stenosis).
This article provides a brief introduction to the
most common conditions that cause neck pain and/or
arm pain, including the primary symptoms and links
to more information.
Acute neck pain
Most episodes of acute
neck pain are due to a muscle strain or other soft tissue
sprain (ligaments, tendons). This type of injury can be
caused by a sudden force (such as from a car accident),
or from straining the neck (such as a stiff neck from sleeping
in the wrong position, or a strain from carrying a heavy
Most minor injuries to the ligaments, tendons and muscles
in the neck usually heal with time (a couple of days or
weeks) because these soft tissues have a good blood supply
to bring the necessary nutrients and proteins for healing
to take place. Conservative care, such as ice and/or heat,
medications, physical therapy, and/or chiropractic or osteopathic
manipulations can help alleviate the painful condition while
it is healing.
For patients with neck pain that lasts longer than two weeks
to three months, or with predominantly arm pain, numbness
or tingling, there is often a specific anatomic abnormality
causing the symptoms.