First Time User? Enroll now.
COVID-19: Vaccine information and additional resources | Medicaid: The program is changing and you must take steps to keep your UNC Health providers
Home > Health Library > Neck Problems and Injuries
Most people will have a minor neck problem at one time or another. Our body movements usually do not cause problems, but it's not surprising that symptoms develop from everyday wear and tear, overuse, or injury. Neck problems and injuries most commonly occur during sports or recreational activities, work-related tasks, or projects around the home.
Neck pain may feel like a "kink," stiffness, or severe pain. Pain may spread to the shoulders, upper back, or arms, or it may cause a headache. Neck movement may be limited, usually more to one side than the other. Neck pain refers to pain anywhere from the area at the base of the skull into the shoulders. The neck includes:
Neck pain may be caused by an injury to one or more of these areas, or it may have another cause. Home treatment will often help relieve neck pain caused by minor injuries.
Neck pain is often caused by a strain or spasm of the neck muscles or inflammation of the neck joints. Examples of common activities that may cause this type of minor injury include:
Minor neck injuries may result from tripping, falling a short distance, or excessive twisting of the spine. Severe neck injuries may result from whiplash in a car accident, falls from significant heights, direct blows to the back or the top of the head, sports-related injuries, a penetrating injury such as a stab wound, or external pressure applied to the neck, such as strangulation.
Pain from an injury may be sudden and severe. Bruising and swelling may develop soon after the injury. Acute injuries include:
Emergency care is required for a neck injury that causes damage to the spinal cord. Symptoms of a spinal cord injury include loss of movement or feeling, numbness, tingling, difficulty controlling the muscles of the arms or legs, and loss of bowel or bladder control.
Neck problems may not be related to an injury.
Treatment for a neck problem or injury may include first aid measures, physical therapy, manipulative therapy (such as chiropractic or osteopathic), medicine, and in some cases surgery. Treatment depends on:
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
Pain in children under 3 years
It can be hard to tell how much pain a baby or toddler is in.
Pain in children 3 years and older
Symptoms of difficulty breathing can range from mild to severe. For example:
Severe trouble breathing means:
Moderate trouble breathing means:
Mild trouble breathing means:
Pain in adults and older children
Major trauma is any event that can cause very serious injury, such as:
Symptoms of serious illness may include:
Symptoms of a heart attack may include:
For men and women, the most common symptom is chest pain or pressure. But women are somewhat more likely than men to have other symptoms, like shortness of breath, nausea, and back or jaw pain.
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Do not move the person unless there is an immediate threat to the person's life, such as a fire. If you have to move the person, keep the head and neck supported and in a straight line at all times. If the person has had a diving accident and is still in the water, float the person face up in the water.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
After you call 911, the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength (325 mg) or 2 to 4 low-dose (81 mg) aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.
Home treatment may help relieve pain, swelling, and stiffness related to a neck problem.
Do not smoke. Smoking slows healing because it decreases blood supply and delays tissue repair. For more information, see the topic Quitting Smoking.
Try a nonprescription medicine to help treat your fever or pain:
Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.
Be sure to follow these safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
Other home treatment may help for problems that are related to neck pain, such as:
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:
To help prevent neck pain caused by posture or body mechanics:
To help prevent neck pain caused by your sleep habits:
Other prevention tips:
To prepare for your appointment, see the topicMaking the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:
Current as of:
July 1, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: July 1, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2021 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.