Cervical Pain

Disease Process

The neck is made up of 7 small vertebrae, intervertebral discs to absorb shock, joints, the spinal cord, nerve roots, muscles and ligaments. Because of the large amount of motion in the neck and the weight of the head, this area is more vulnerable to injury. Injury to any of these structures can cause neck pain.


There is an extensive list of possible causes of neck (cervical) pain. Some of the most common are:

  • Motor Vehicle Accidents (MVA): Whiplash (muscle and ligament damage).
  • Degenerative Disorders: wear and tear with aging.
    • Spinal Stenosis: Narrowing of the canals that the spinal cord and nerve roots travel through causes inflammation.
    • Degenerative Joint Disease (Osteoarthritis): bone spurs form.
  • Spondylolisthesis: slipping of one vertebrae on another
  • Herniated Disc
  • Poor Posture / Weak Abdominal Muscles
  • Obesity

Symptoms of cervical pain will vary depending on the actual cause of the pain, but may include:

  • Muscle discomfort in the neck, upper back or shoulders.
  • Difficulty turn or bending neck.
  • Pain that travels down into the shoulder or arm.
  • Numbness or tingling in the arm, hand or fingers.
  • Muscle weakness in arm, decreased grip strength.
  • Headaches.


To determine the cause of an individualís neck pain, the doctor will rely on the following:

  • Detailed medical history
  • Physical Examination
  • X-rays
  • MRI (if more detailed exam is necessary)
Current Treatment

Treatment of neck pain will vary depending on the cause of the symptoms. Basic care includes:

  • Rest
  • Ice or Heat
  • Possible use of bracing such as a neck collar
  • Medication: the use of anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS), or narcotics if pain is severe.
  • Epidural Injections
  • Physical Therapy
  • Surgery if conservative treatment fails

How Can Physical Therapy Help

A physical therapist will evaluate your symptoms and help determine the cause of pain. Goals of physical therapy are to decrease pain and improve function. Actual treatment will vary depending on the reason for the pain, but may include some of the following:

Patient Resources
American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons

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