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Neck pain

Overview of neck pain

Neck pain is a common condition frequently caused by muscle spasms or strains, poor spinal alignment, or a neck injury. Neck pain can range from mild tenderness and a dull ache to a stiff neck and severe pain.

In some cases, you might only have stiffness or a sore neck if you move a certain way or perform certain activities. Neck pain may come and go, or it may be constant and nearly disabling.

At Dignity Health, our orthopedic doctors provide neck pain relief and complete care for spinal conditions. If you need an orthopedic specialist for neck pain, Find a Doctor nearby.


Other than neck pain itself, you may notice some additional symptoms if the other muscles of your neck and shoulder are compensating for a pulled muscle.

These include:

  • Headaches
  • Numbness that moves from your neck down your shoulder and arm
  • Pain in your upper back, shoulders, and arms
  • Pain that gets worse when you hold your head in the same position for a long time
  • Stiffness and difficulty moving your neck
  • Pain when moving your head or sitting up

Most cases of neck pain resolve on their own in a few days, but you should speak with an orthopedic doctor at Dignity Health if you have severe pain, chronic discomfort, or neck pain that limits your daily activities.


Neck pain is most often the result of straining a muscle in your neck. For example, many people experience mild strains from “sleeping funny,” carrying a heavy bag, or moving in a way that unexpectedly causes a muscle spasm.

Less commonly, muscle spasms in the neck can affect the bones, joints, and nerves in your spine, as well as the tendons, ligaments, and other soft tissues in your neck and shoulders.

  • Neck pain can also result from injury or more serious conditions, such as:
  • Osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis in the neck joints
  • Injuries resulting from falls or “whiplash” following a car crash
  • Nerve compression from a herniated disc
  • Infections in the spine or neck
  • Some infectious diseases such as meningitis
  • Muscle spasms
  • Poor spinal alignment
  • Tumors from cancer growing in the neck or spine


Neck pain has several different causes, which can be addressed in slightly different ways. The most common cause of neck pain is from momentary muscle strains and spasms. You can reduce the chances of these occurring or recurring by:

  • Using proper posture when sitting and, if you work in an office setting, adjusting your chair, desk, and other equipment for proper ergonomics
  • Resting after an injury to avoid worsening muscle strain
  • Avoiding carrying bags that place a lot of weight only on one shoulder
  • Adjusting your sleeping position to prevent neck strain
  • Not smoking or stopping smoking
  • Engaging in regular physical activity to strengthen the muscles of the back, which support the neck and head
  • Attending regular appointments with your doctor to screen for other conditions like cancer

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.