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Neck Pain

Often caused by a muscle strain, neck pain may involve general discomfort, stiffness, or sharp pain at the top of your spine. Playing sports can put you at risk for neck pain as well as some underlying medical conditions. Doctors often diagnose neck pain via a complete evaluation, which may include image scans. Treatment may include a combination of rest and OTC medications.

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What Is Neck Pain?

Neck pain refers to discomfort or soreness in the cervical region of the spine. People often experience stiffness, aching, or sharp sensations. The level of discomfort may range from mild to severe and is caused by many factors.

Neck pain can result from a muscle strain, arthritis, or a more serious trauma — such as an accident or blow to the head. You should consult a doctor right away if you suffer head trauma.

Other causes of neck pain include twisting, jerking, or other odd head movements.

What are neck pain risk factors and complications?

A number of factors can put you at risk for neck pain.

Sports — such as soccer and football — involve rapid neck movements that can strain your neck and cause pain.

Other neck pain risk factors can include:

  • Stress.
  • Poor posture or sleeping position.
  • Worn joints in your neck.
  • Compression of the nerves.
  • Arthritis in the bones of your neck or spine.

Left untreated, neck pain can cause you to adjust your movements and posture.

This may lead to:

  • Upper body discomfort.
  • Sore muscles.
  • Limited enjoyment of your favorite sports and daily activities.

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Neck Pain Symptoms and Diagnosis

What are the symptoms of neck pain?

Neck pain symptoms often involve pain that radiates to other parts of the body, such as the:

  • Head
  • Shoulders
  • Arms and hands

People most often notice pain and stiffness in the neck when turning the head side to side.

Other symptoms of neck pain may include:

  • Headaches
  • Weakness
  • Tingling in the hands for no reason
  • Pain that travels down the legs

How do you diagnose neck pain?

To diagnose what's causing your neck pain, your doctor may order one or more of the following tests:

  • X-rays to look at the bones.
  • CT scans to get a closer look at the bone and spinal canal.
  • MRI scans to look at soft tissues, such as the spinal cord and nerves.
  • Electromyography (EMG) to check nerve and muscle function.
  • Myelography — a type of x-ray — involves injecting dye or contrast material into the spinal canal to get a picture of the spinal canal and nerve roots.

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How Do You Treat Neck Pain?

Working with a UPMC expert to find the root cause of your neck pain is the first step.

Your doctor will review your test results. If there's no serious injury to your neck or spinal cord, we'll design the best treatment plan for your neck pain.

Neck pain relief for athletes and nonathletes

At UPMC, we treat neck pain in both athletes and nonathletes.

Neck pain treatments may include:

  • Rest.
  • Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or acetaminophen to help relieve neck pain.
  • A warm, damp compress.
  • Therapy to improve your posture and movement.
  • Traction.
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation.

Getting the right treatment for your sore neck will go far in helping you recover faster and avoid further injury.

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