Most people will experience neck pain at some point in their lives. Neck pain can be acute, meaning it lasts a few hours to a few weeks, or it can be chronic. Neck pain that lasts several weeks or longer is considered chronic neck pain.
Most causes of neck pain aren't serious. Poor posture at work, such as leaning into your computer, and during hobbies, such as hunching over your workbench, are common causes of neck pain.
But sometimes neck pain can signify something more serious. If your neck pain is so severe that you can't touch your chin to your chest despite a few days of self-care, seek immediate medical attention.
Neck pain takes many forms. Signs and symptoms of neck pain may include:
* Pain in your neck that may feel sharp or dull
* Stiffness in your neck
* Difficulty going about your daily tasks because of pain or stiffness in your neck
* Shoulder pain in addition to neck pain, in some cases
* Back pain in addition to neck pain, in some cases
Neck pain can result from several causes, including:
* Muscle strains. Overuse, such as too much time spent hunched over a steering wheel, often triggers muscle strains. Neck muscles, particularly those in the back of your neck, become fatigued and eventually strained. When you overuse your neck muscles repeatedly, chronic pain can develop. Even such minor things as reading in bed or gritting your teeth can strain neck muscles.
* Worn joints. Like the other joints in your body, your neck joints experience wear and tear with age, which can cause osteoarthritis in your neck. Neck (cervical) osteoarthritis can cause pain and stiffness in your neck.
* Disk disorders. As you age, the cushioning disks between your vertebrae become dry and stiff, narrowing the spaces in your spinal column where the nerves come out. The disks in your neck also can herniate. This means the inner gelatinous cartilage material of a disk protrudes through the disk's tougher cartilage covering. Neck pain may occur or nearby nerves can be irritated. Other tissues and bony growths (spurs) also can press on your nerves as they exit your spinal cord, causing pain.
* Injuries. Rear-end collisions often result in whiplash injuries, which occur when the head is jerked forward and back, stretching the soft tissues of the neck beyond their limits.