Chronic neck pain is pain that occurs over a long period of time. It usually lasts more than three months. The pain can range from mild to severe.
Contact your doctor if you have experienced neck pain over a period of time without relief.
Chronic neck pain can be caused by:
Chronic neck pain may also cause you to have neck stiffness. Pain may be worse when moving your neck. The pain can be any type of pain including burning, sharp, dull, tingling. The pain may spread to other parts of the body such as the shoulders and arms.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist. Orthopedists specialize in bones and joints. A neurologist or neurosurgeon specializes in the nerves and spinal cord.
Your doctor may need to see images of your spine. This can be done with:
Your doctor may need to measure how well the nerves and muscles in your neck are working. This can be done using electromyography (EMG).
Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. Options include the following:
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.
There are many different medicines that may be used the help you manage your neck pain.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID)—to treat the pain and reduce inflammation
- Acetominophen—to treat pain
- Certain antidepressant medications—sometimes used for neck pain
- Certain antiseizure medications
- Corticosteroid injection—to treat the pain and reduce inflammation caused by disk disease
There are other treatments that might be helpful for neck pain.
- Low-level laser therapy— a light source is directed on the painful area
- Electrotherapy treatments, such as repetitive magnetic stimulation, and nerve and muscle stimulation
- Chiropractic care
- Intermittent traction (pulling on the neck)
Most cases of neck pain are treated medically. 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.
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.
- Reviewer: Brian Randall, MD
- Review Date: 03/2013 -
- Update Date: 11/11/2013 -