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Neurosciences and Behavioral Health Center

Chronic Neck Pain

Chronic neck pain occurs over a long period of time, usually over three months. The pain can range from mild to severe.

An image showing the spine and nerves in a human body viewed from behind and to the left. Highlighted is an area in the neck indicating chronic neck pain.
Nerve Pain in Neck
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Chronic neck pain can be caused by:

  • Muscle strains and muscle tension
  • Poor posture
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Disk degeneration
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Prior spine surgery
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Tumors (rarely)

Symptoms

Chronic neck pain may also cause you to have neck stiffness. Pain may be worse when moving your neck. The pain can include burning, sharpness, dullness and tingling. The pain may spread to other parts of the body such as the shoulders and arms.

Diagnosis

To make a diagnosis, your provider may conduct X-rays or other scans to analyze your spine, or use an electromyography (EMG) to measure how well your neck nerves and muscles are working.



Treatment Options

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.

Medications

Many medicines can help you manage your neck pain:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID)
  • Acetaminophen
  • Certain antidepressant medications
  • Certain antiseizure medications
  • Corticosteroid injection

Other Treatments

There are other treatments that might be helpful for neck pain.

  • Low-level laser therapy, where a light source is directed on the painful area
  • Electrotherapy treatments, such as repetitive magnetic stimulation and nerve and muscle stimulation
  • Chiropractic care
  • Acupuncture
  • Intermittent traction (pulling on the neck)
  • Massage

Surgery

Most cases of neck pain are treated with medication. 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.

Prevention

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

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Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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