Neck Pain: Symptoms, Causes and Diagnosis

Neck pain is a common problem witnessed by people of all age groups. If left untreated, neck pain can restrict daily activities and reduce the quality of life. Any stiffness in the neck can cause pain in the neck, shoulder, head, arm, and/or head. Neck pain usually goes away on its own within a few days; however, if it lasts for more than three months, it is said to be acute. Neck pain is felt like sharp or “stabbing” pain that is localized in one area. It often intensifies by twisting or extending the cervical spine. If it involves a compressed nerve, you may feel numbness, tingling, or weakness in your arm or hand.


What causes neck pain?


There are many injuries and medical issues that can cause neck pain. Some of these conditions include:


Poor posture: If you spend too many hours hunched over a computer or smartphone, it can lead to a forward head posture, causing extra stress on the neck. Even placing your computer screen too high or too low, and reading in bed can cause stiffness in the neck.


Sleeping in an awkward position: If your sleeping position or pillow does not fully support your neck, it can result in neck pain. If you sleep on your side with your head lower than your spine, it could lead to discomfort in the neck.


Worn joints: Like other joints in the body, the discs and joints in the cervical spine (neck) can degenerate over time. This age-related wear and tear in the cervical spine (neck) can lead to a stiff neck, neck pain and other symptoms. It can also lead to Cervical Spondylosis or Arthritis of the neck.


Injuries: If you are involved in rear-end auto collisions, it might result in straining of soft tissues.


Herniated disc: When a spinal disc becomes torn and the soft jelly like bulges out, it results in a herniated disc. 




To diagnose the cause of your neck pain, your doctor will do a physical exam. The doctor may observe your physical posture, check how well you can move your neck, and look for tingling, or weakness in your arms or hands. Depending on the severity of your condition, you may be asked to undergo an x-ray, CT Scan, or MRI to further diagnose your neck pain.


X-rays: A cervical spine X-ray uses a small amount of radiation to take pictures of the cervical vertebrae (bones in the back of your neck). While dense structures like bones appear white on the x-ray, soft tissues allow X-rays to pass through them and appear black. Your doctor may advise a neck X-ray if you have a neck injury or pain, persistent numbness, or weakness in your arms that does not go away. A neck x-ray is helpful in detecting: 


  • Dislocation in bone joint
  • Broken bone (fracture)
  • Problems with disks
  • Extra bone growth
  • Bone tumors or cysts
  • Infection causing swelling of the vocal cords (croup)
  • Thinning of the bone (osteoporosis)
  • Enlarged tonsils and adenoids


CT scan: A cervical spine CT scan is an imaging technique that uses X-rays and computer imaging to create cross-sectional images of the neck. The test helps your doctor to accurately diagnose potential injuries to a specific area. The spinal CT helps to: 


  • Evaluate the spine before and after surgery
  • Assess spine fractures due to injury
  • Diagnosing a herniated intervertebral disk
  • Broken bones or areas of potential instability
  • Evaluate congenital anomalies of the spine
  • Detecting various types of tumors in the vertebral column


MRI Scan: A cervical spine MRI makes use of a strong magnetic field, radio waves and computer analysis to create high-quality images of the spine. It is often performed if there is no improvement in the pain and it is accompanied by numbness. It can help doctors to:


  • Evaluate chronic diseases of the nervous system
  • Cancer or tumors in the spine
  • Injury or trauma to the spine


If you are suffering from symptoms from neck pain for a long period of time, it is important to go for a routine checkup and know its exact cause. Your doctor can tell you precisely if you have any serious underlying conditions that require treatment.



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