Neck pain diagnosis at Dignity Health typically begins with an in-depth physical exam. Your doctor will look at your posture, any abnormalities with your neck, head, and shoulders, and examine your range of motion.
Your doctor will also examine your neck and throat to look for any lumps or abnormalities. If you have any neurological symptoms such as numbness, your doctor may also check your peripheral strength and look for signs of weakness in one of your hands or feet.
Imaging tests, such as x-rays, CT scans, PET scans, or ultrasounds, can also help provide an accurate picture of any neck injuries or tumors. Other tests depend on the symptoms you have, but might include blood tests, biopsies, or spinal cord testing.
Treatment depends on your specific neck condition or injury. Doctors at Dignity Health can treat many neck conditions, and even some traumatic injuries, without surgery.
In many cases, taking anti-inflammatory medicines and muscle relaxants will help neck pain or stiffness resolve without further treatment.
Other common treatment approaches for neck pain include wearing a soft collar or brace and avoiding strenuous activities until your injury can heal. Physical therapy, massage, hot and cold therapy, and corticosteroid injections may also be helpful. In some cases, neck traction or surgery is necessary.
Most cases of neck pain resolve with rest, ice, heat packs, and over-the-counter pain and anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen.
In rare cases, more severe injuries or pain require more time and treatment.
When to seek emergency care for neck pain
Most cases of neck pain are the outcome of minor sprains and injuries that will heal on their own. In fact, the majority of people will experience neck pain at some point in their lives, and recover just fine. Less commonly, neck pain can be an indication of something more serious.
If you have experienced head trauma from a fall higher than standing height, or you have neck pain after a traumatic incident such as a car crash, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
In rare cases, neck pain can be a symptom of heart attack. If you notice symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, arm or jaw pain, or nausea along with neck pain, call 911.
In addition, noticing any of the following symptoms is a sign that you should seek urgent medical advice:
Dignity Health provides exceptional care for diagnosing and treating common neck conditions and injuries as part of our orthopedic services.
- Loss of bowel or urinary control
- Any deformity or lump in the neck area (this can indicate a more severe injury or tumor)
- Fever accompanied by a stiff neck (this can indicate an infection such as meningitis)
- Spinal pain or pain in the neck that is getting worse over time instead of better
- Numbness around the “saddle” area (groin, pelvis, upper thighs, lower abdomen)
- Difficulty with balance or walking
- Fine motor control issues (such as issues buttoning clothes, holding a pen, or using keys)
- Weakness or numbness in the extremities (feet, legs, arms, hands, or fingers)
The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.