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Neck pain

Diagnosis of neck pain

When you visit a Dignity Health hospital or outpatient clinic for neck pain, your doctor will assess your symptoms, perform a physical exam of your neck, and test your range of motion. Additional tests, such as an X-ray or MRI, may help your doctor diagnose your neck problem and plan a proper course of treatment.

If you have additional signs or symptoms of an infection or condition like meningitis, your doctor may order further tests to check nerve function and look for sources of inflammation.


Most cases of neck pain resolve on their own with rest. At Dignity Health, your neck pain treatment may include over-the-counter or prescription medication for reducing inflammation and pain.

For muscle-related injuries, stretching exercises to strengthen your neck and shoulder muscles can be helpful to reduce symptoms and the chances of a future episode.

If your neck pain is related to another condition such as arthritis, herniated disc, or meningitis, your treatment plan will likely focus on decreasing symptoms through medication, surgery, or other therapies.

If you have a spinal nerve condition, Dignity Health also offers neck surgeries — such as laminectomy, disc replacement, or anterior cervical discectomy — to minimize pain and help you regain healthy range of motion.

When to see a doctor for neck pain

The vast majority of the time, neck pain is the result of a pulled muscle or minor strain.

However, in some cases it can indicate something more serious. If you notice any of the following symptoms along with neck pain, you should seek urgent medical care:

  • Severe neck pain that lasts longer than a few days and interferes with your daily activities or gets worse over time
  • Neck pain after a traumatic injury such as a car crash or falling down the stairs, or any other signs of a bone fracture such as instability, cracking sounds, or unusual lumps or deformity
  • Severe lower back pain with neck pain
  • Loss of bladder or bowel function
  • Neck pain that radiates down into your arms or legs
  • Numbness or pain in your arms, legs, or other extremities
  • Saddle anesthesia (numbness around your pelvis and inner thighs)
  • Difficulty with fine motor control (e.g., buttons, tying shoelaces, holding a pen, etc.)
  • Difficulty with balance or walking
  • Inability to stand, or other problems with movement

In rare instances, neck pain can signal a serious, life-threatening medical problem, including meningitis or a heart attack. You should call 911 if you have neck pain with any of these symptoms:

  • Pain in your chest or jaw
  • A tough time breathing
  • Signs of infection such as fever, weight loss, muscle spasms, a feeling of stiffness in the neck or back, sensitivity to light, or vomiting

When in doubt, don’t live with pain in your neck. Contact your doctor to see whether your neck pain is cause for concern. Dignity Health provides complete care for neck pain as part of our orthopedic services.

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