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Neck pain

Neck pain or a stiff neck is common complaint, but is not usually something to be concerned about.

However, if the neck pain hasn't cleared up after a few days of home treatment, seek medical advice.

What causes neck pain?

Causes of neck pain include:

How is neck pain diagnosed?

A physical examination by a doctor is the first step to a diagnosis. Further tests may be required including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to show the detail of neural or nerve-related elements.

How is neck pain treated?

The treatment of soft-tissue neck pain includes the use of anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen, and/or paracetamol. Pain may also be treated with a local application of moist heat or ice.

Keeping the affected area warm may help relieve symptoms and muscle spasms, using a hot water bottle or heat pack on the neck.

It may help to avoid activities which involve a lot of movement of the neck, such as driving.

Gentle exercises may help, as well as techniques to improve posture during the day and sleeping at night.

Self-care at home

If your neck pain is not severe and you do not have any new numbness, weakness or other symptoms of nerve damage, you may safely treat yourself at home.

  • If pain is moderate, rest may be necessary. It is helpful to place a small pillow under the nape of your neck to provide proper neutral positioning.
  • Dry or moist heat applied to the area often provides relief from pain caused by muscle spasm.
  • Pain control with a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as ibuprofen, or a painkiller such as paracetamol, is frequently helpful. An opioid medication, such as codeine, may be added as may muscle relaxants.
  • You should guard against neck extension because this will make the pain worse. You should stay active and perform your daily work as tolerated, unless this involves heavy physical labour. Seek medical advice for recommendations.

If your neck pain is associated with symptoms such as numbness, tingling, or weakness in the arms, dizziness, or fever seek urgent medical advice.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on March 03, 2014

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