5 Possible Causes Behind That Annoying Neck Pain

You can’t reverse osteoarthritis, but you can usually manage the symptoms with lifestyle changes (like icing your neck), physical therapy, and medications such as NSAIDs, the Cleveland Clinic says. “Those are first-line treatments,” Zarina Ali, M.D., an assistant professor of neurosurgery at Penn Medicine, tells SELF. If none of that seems to help or you’re only getting minor improvement, your doctor may recommend you undergo cortisone injections (which can relieve pain in your joints), injections of hyaluronic acid (which can add some very necessary cushioning), or surgery, the Mayo Clinic says.

4. You have whiplash.

Whiplash is a neck injury that’s due to a forceful, fast, back-and-forth movement of your neck (like a cracking of a whip). It doesn’t only happen in car crashes; whiplash can also be due to a sports accident, physical abuse, or other trauma, according to the Mayo Clinic.

When you get whiplash, the various tissues of your neck get injured, causing symptoms like stiffness, headaches starting at the base of your skull, fatigue, dizziness, blurry vision, problems concentrating, and tenderness or pain in your shoulders, upper back, or arms, according to the Mayo Clinic says. These typically set in within 24 hours of the injury.

Some people with whiplash can get better by resting, applying hot or cold packs for up to 15 minutes multiple times a day, using over-the-counter pain medications, and doing gentle stretches to exercise the neck as directed by their doctor. But you might also need more intensive treatment like muscle relaxants, numbing injections, physical therapy, or using a foam collar for a little while to help stabilize your neck, the Mayo Clinic says. This is why it’s key to see a doctor if you have neck pain after an injury rather than just trying to self-diagnose and treat your symptoms.

5. You have an underlying health condition.

5 Possible Causes Behind That Annoying Neck Pain

Although it’s much more likely that your neck pain is due to something like a strain or pinched nerve, conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, meningitis, and cancer can cause neck discomfort as well.

Rheumatoid arthritis causes inflammation of the joints, potentially including the ones in your neck, leading to painful swelling and gradual damage to your bones and joints, the Cleveland Clinic explains.

Meningitis is another inflammatory condition, this time of the membranes surrounding your brain and spinal cord. A stiff, potentially painful neck is often a sign of this health issue, the Mayo Clinic says.

Cancer can hurt your neck in a few ways, depending on the type you have. For instance, if you have cancer that destroys bone tissue in your neck, that can cause pain, as can having a tumor that compresses a nerve, Dr. Anand says.

If you’ve had neck pain for more than a week and it’s not getting better with at-home treatments (or it’s actually getting worse), you should definitely check in with your doctor.

And if you have weakness in your hands and legs, severe shooting pain that’s intensifying, or you’re losing control of your bladder or bowels, it’s time to head to the emergency room, Dr. Anand says. That can signal something like a serious strain or compressed nerve.

If you see a doctor for neck pain that won’t quit, they’ll often recommend undergoing some kind of imaging like an X-ray, CT scan, or MRI to try to get a better look at what’s going on in there, the Mayo Clinic says. From there, they’ll recommend a specific treatment plan to try to get you—and your neck—feeling better soon.