Neck Pain

Neck pain, ranging from a steady, dull ache to incapacitating spasms, is a very common complaint, with many causes and manifestations. The pain may originate in any of the neck structures muscles, ligaments, tendons, and the disks that cushion the seven cervical vertebrae, as well as bony overgrowths and spurs. Or it can originate else where; for example, the shoulders or the temporomandibular joint (TM)) of the jaw and radiate to the neck along nerve pathways that serve both areas. Increasingly, chronic neck pain is due to occupational demands on the upper musculoskeletal system, such as long hours spent driving or working at a computer display terminal. Psychological stress is still another common cause. Or a whiplash injury that seems inconsequential initially may produce chronic pain weeks later.

Diagnostic Studies And Procedures

After asking questions about the onset and nature of the pain and doing an examination, a doctor will order X-rays. If he suspects a disk problem, he may also recommend a CT scan or MRI. When the sufferer is an athlete or a gymnast, dancer, or instrumentalist, a video of the patient at work may reveal biomechanical problems.

Medical Treatments

When neck pain is treated with drugs, the first choice is one that combines analgesia and anti inflammatory properties, such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Where pain is immobilizing, an injection of cortisone may help. Neck pain caused by muscle spasms may be treated with baclofen (Lioresal), chlorzoxazone (Paraflex), or diazepam (Valium). However, long-term use of any of these drugs is discouraged as a rule, because they can become habit forming. In some cases, wearing an orthopedic neck brace helps. An acute strain of the muscles and tendons is treated with rest. Surgery may be recommended for a herniated disk or bony overgrowths.

Alternative Therapies

Appropriate alternative therapies are often combined with or substituted for conventional treatments.


A series of treatments may be all that is needed to provide lasting relief, especially for neck pain caused by muscle spasms and stress.

Alexander Technique

Learning new postures and ways of moving are helpful for people whose neck pain is job related. Many professional musicians, for example, benefit from this technique.


Combined with massage, this is a good way to relax muscles.


Training in biofeedback skills can help overcome muscle spasms. Biofeedback may also be useful in stopping tooth grinding and other habits that cause TM] problems.


Treatments are concentrated on the neck and upper back to alleviate pressure on nerves in the neck.

Meditation And Yoga

Breathing exercises, relaxation methods, and focused meditation can ease stress related pain.

Self Treatment

A heating pad can be helpful, but even more effective is the wet heat provided by special pads such as Thermaphore. Otherwise, self-care centers on exercises to relieve tension at the back of the neck. The following routine can be done several times a day, at home or at work. To increase their effect, do the first two exercises as slowly as possible, and when you drop your head, drop your lower jaw too and close your eyes.

  • Roll your head slowly three times clockwise, then three times counter clockwise, dropping its full weight at the end of each cycle.
  • Drop your head forward, without moving your shoulders, then from one side to the other; next, tilt it backward as far as you can. Do this 10 times.
  • Without tilting your head, swivel it slowly from side to side 10 times, and then repeat the exercise more quickly.
  • To relax neck and shoulders, sit in a chair with good back support. With your feet about 18 inches apart and flat on the floor, stretch your arms and trunk upward. With buttocks firmly placed on the seat, drop your body forward, letting head and arms dangle.
  • Standing straight, with feet parallel and about 12 inches apart, stretch arms high above your head, then drop your upper body forward from the hips so that your arms, head, and shoulders are hanging loose. Keep this position for about 30 seconds, then shake arms, shoulders, and head, and raise your body slowly. Repeat several times.

Other Causes of Neck Pain

Arthritis, structural defects, and wry neck are a few causes of neckaches. Pain also may be referred to the neck during earache, headache, or toothache.