Neck Pain: the Most Common Causes

We've all experienced neck pain at one time or another, some more severe than others. However, it's important to know the causes behind this ailment, which affects a vulnerable and essential part of the human body.
Neck Pain: the Most Common Causes

Last update: 07 January, 2019

While the neck connects the head to the trunk, it performs a variety of other functions too. It houses the larynx, the thyroid glands and the trachea, among others. Any blow, jolt or injury to the neck is a delicate matter. Due to the fact that this body part isn’t protected by bone, these events can lead to neck pain.

It’s so important to take care when moving your neck, as this part of the body links the head to the spine. Depending on genetics, a person can have a long, thick, short or thin neck. Beyond this, it’s vital to keep your neck in optimal condition. It needs to be flexible enough to move around while being strong enough to support the weight of your head. In this article, we’ll look at the most common causes of neck pain.

Neck pain

The neck is made up of bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles, which allow for its mobility. Any abnormality, inflammation or injury can result in pain. There are different reasons why the neck may be experiencing pain, be it poor posture during work or sleep, an unnatural movement, or muscle tension related to stress.

Woman experiencing neck pain

There are times when you might experience a slight tension in your neck that goes away fairly quickly. It’s an inoffensive pain that can be caused by muscle fatigue. However, there are other kinds of neck pain that need to be treated with medication and other measures. The diagnoses for neck pain are as follows:


  • Whiplash: this occurs when you move your neck sharply back and forth. This can occur, for instance, when you’re in a vehicle that comes to a sudden stop. Generally, it doesn’t require medical attention, unless the pain is very intense. For less intense pain, simply use ice packs and mentholated lotion.
  • Muscle tension: this is one of the most common causes of neck pain and can be accompanied by a headache. It occurs as a result of poor posture while sitting or sleeping, or from bruxism (clenching your teeth during sleep). You can treat the pain with painkillers and warm compresses.
  • Torticollis: this is similar to muscle tension, with the difference being that torticollis also restricts the neck’s mobility. This can occur while sleeping or as the result of a movement that causes a muscle spasm. You can relieve the pain with hot compresses.
  • Blows: accidents, blows, and falls can cause pain in the neck muscles. A muscle relaxant should be enough to relieve the pain.

There are also other reasons for neck pain that can signal more serious illnesses, which may require professional medical attention. For this reason, you need to pay attention to any neck ailment that lasts for a significant amount of time.

  • Rheumatoid arthritis: this affects the joints, causing pain and restricted mobility. It’s an autoimmune issue and has no cure. It is treated with physiotherapy sessions and medications prescribed by a professional.
  • Herniated cervical disc: this occurs due to the displacement of a cervical disk. It can be the result of poor posture or wear on the spine. This causes intense pain and occasional numbness in the neck. It should be treated by a specialist, who will usually prescribe exercises and painkillers.

Neck pain in athletes

Constant exercise can put a lot of pressure on – or overexert – the muscles and ligaments of the neck. Athletes often make movements that force the body into postures to which it is unaccustomed. Therefore, athletes must perform exercises correctly in order to avoid any kind of damage to the neck.

Woman with neck pain

Athletes and fitness enthusiasts should stretch and warm up before they begin any kind of physical activity. This will prevent cramps, muscle tension and injuries. In addition, they should also be careful when practicing the following exercises:

  • Sit-ups: although this exercise may not appear to involve the neck, this body part does play an important role. This is because people tend to bend their neck too much and apply force to it. The correct technique involves keeping the neck straight and not forcing it, instead focusing efforts on the abdominal muscles. Keeping a tense neck during sit-ups can lead to neck pain.
  • Bridge pose: when performing a bridge pose, the spine contorts in a position to which the neck is unaccustomed. Pay attention to your neck’s posture to avoid any kind of dangerous movement.
  • Jumps: when jumping, the body is suspended in the air for a few seconds. When it lands, it is important that the impact is cushioned, which is achieved by bending the knees. If you don’t bend your knees, the impact incurred by the spine is dangerous and can affect the neck.

Final thoughts

The neck is vital to the overall function of the human body. For this reason, you should do everything possible to keep it in good condition at all times. You must also properly address any pain or trauma experienced in this area. The muscles and ligaments of the neck are fragile but can be strengthened through yoga or Pilates. The important point is to always protect and care for this, often overlooked, body part.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.