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Learn about your pain in the back of the neck, including causes and common questions. Or get a personalized analysis of your pain in the back of the neck from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

Pain in the Back of the Neck Checker

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Your Pain in the Back of the Neck May Also be Known as:
Aches and pains in base of skull
Aches and pains in my back of neck
Aches and pains in my neck
Aches and pains in neck
Achy neck
Back of neck ache
Back of neck discomfort
Back of neck hurts
Back of neck pain
Back of neck soreness

Top 10 Pain in the Back of the Neck Causes

  1. 1.Temporomandibiular Joint (Tmj) Dysfunction Disorder

    The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is located in front of the ear, and it connects the jaw to the side of the head. Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is a painful condition which can be caused by excess tension in jaw mucles, faulty alignment between upper and lower teeth, arthritis in the joint, or injury of the jaw or face.

    You should visit your primary care physician. This is a complex condition to treat, because the causes are not always clear. Treatment may include resting the jaw with a soft diet, pain medications, and physical therapy.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    dizziness, history of headaches, pain, restricted movement, and clicking sounds from jaw, pain in the back of the neck, jaw pain
    Symptoms that always occur with temporomandibiular joint (tmj) dysfunction disorder:
    pain, restricted movement, and clicking sounds from jaw
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Neck Sprain

    The neck is made up of 7 bones held together by muscles and ligaments. Any stretch of these muscles or ligaments causes a sprain, which will cause pain and affect your ability to move the neck.

    You can treat a neck sprain like most sprains - rest (a neck collar if necessary), ice (for 10-20 minutes at a time), pain relievers (like ibuprofen), and gentle massage.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    headache, shoulder pain, pain in the back of the neck, difficulty moving the neck, neck pain
    Symptoms that always occur with neck sprain:
    pain in the back of the neck
    Symptoms that never occur with neck sprain:
    fever
    Urgency:
    Phone call or in-person visit
  3. 3.Myofascial Pain Syndrome

    Myofascial pain syndrome is a chronic musculoskeletal syndrome caused by trigger points within muscle. Pressure on these points causes pain in the area around the point as well as in other body parts, a phenomenon known as referred pain.

    You should visit your primary care physician. This complex chronic condition is often treated with injections and physical therapy.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    dizziness, spontaneous shoulder pain, pain in the back of the neck, shoulder blade pain, difficulty moving the shoulder
    Symptoms that always occur with myofascial pain syndrome:
    tender muscle knot
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Whiplash

    Whiplash, a soft tissue injury to the neck, is the result of a sudden jolt to the neck. This injury most frequently occurs after a car is rear-ended.

    You do not need treatment. Your whiplash should improve within a week. In the meantime, you can take an over-the-counter painkiller to manage your pain. If your symptoms do not improve, you should see your primary care physician.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    headache, pain in the back of the neck, stiff neck, arm weakness, shoulder pain from an injury
    Symptoms that always occur with whiplash:
    neck pain from an injury, pain in the back of the neck
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  5. 5.Tension Headache (First Onset)

    Tension-type headaches are the most common type of headache. It is pain or discomfort in the head and/or neck. It's often associated with muscle tightness in these areas. This condition can occur as little as once a year (infrequent) but as often as more than 15 days per month (chronic). The cause of tension-type headaches is not clear.

    You can safely treat this condition on your own. Tension-type headaches are diagnosed purely by your symptoms. Medications, such as over-the-counter pain killers (e.g., ibuprofen or Tylenol) may help. However, it is important not to take them too regularly. Taking them more than two or three times a week can cause more headaches, as the body gets used to the drug, and the headache comes back when you stop taking the medication. If these headaches become more chronic in nature, you should visit your primary care physician, as chronic tension-type headaches can be more effectively treated with prescription medications and additional non-drug therapies.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    new headache, nausea or vomiting, loss of appetite, moderate headache, mild headache
    Symptoms that always occur with tension headache (first onset):
    new headache
    Symptoms that never occur with tension headache (first onset):
    hidden: both photo and phonophobia, throbbing headache, headache resulting from a head injury
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment

    Pain in the Back of the Neck Checker

    Take a quiz to find out why you’re having pain in the back of the neck.

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  6. 6.Pinched Nerve in the Neck

    With age, disks separating the cervical vertebrae (which are the bones of your spine in your neck) lose height as well as lose water content, becoming stiffer. The vertebrae move closer together, and nerves that exit between these bones may be pinched, causing pain to travel down the nerve as it passes through the arm. The pain is usually sharp, and some people report a "pins and needles" sensation or even complete numbness.

    You should visit your primary care physician who will coordinate your care with a muscle and bone specialist (orthopedic surgeon). Cervical radiculopathy is treated with pain medication, soft neck collars, and physical therapy.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one shoulder, spontaneous shoulder pain, pain that radiates down arm, pain in the back of the neck, severe shoulder pain
    Symptoms that always occur with pinched nerve in the neck:
    pain that radiates down arm
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Rheumatoid Arthritis

    Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a form of arthritis that causes pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of function in your joints. It can affect any joint but is common in the wrist and fingers. RA is an autoimmune disorder, meaning that it is caused by the immune system incorrectly attacking the joints when it shouldn't.

    You should visit your primary care physician who will coordinate care with a specialist. RA is a complex disease, which can require prescription medication to help slow down the damage to your joints, as well as pain killers such as ibuprofen (Advil), or naproxen (Anaprox and Naprosyn). Exercise, especially swimming, can also help with pain and stiffness.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, depressed mood, muscle aches, joint pain, daytime sleepiness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  8. 8.Ankylosing Spondylitis

    Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of arthritis of the spine. It causes swelling between the vertebrae, which are the disks that make up the spine, and in the joints between the spine and pelvis.

    You should visit your primary care physician, where, based on clinical exam, blood tests, and x-ray, your doctor will likely recommend physical therapy and medications (Ibuprofen or an immune-system modifier).

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, trouble sleeping, back pain, joint pain, pain in the back of the neck
    Symptoms that always occur with ankylosing spondylitis:
    back pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  9. 9.Cervical Vertebral Fracture

    The seven bones in the neck are the cervical vertebrae. They support the head and connect it to the shoulders and body. A fracture, or break, in one of the cervical vertebrae is commonly called a broken neck.

    You should call an ambulance immediately to stabilize your neck for proper transport to the hospital.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in the back of the neck, neck pain from an injury, arm weakness, leg weakness, severe back pain
    Symptoms that always occur with cervical vertebral fracture:
    neck pain from an injury, pain in the back of the neck
    Symptoms that never occur with cervical vertebral fracture:
    spontaneous neck pain
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service
  10. 10.Cervical Dystonia (Spasmodic Torticollis)

    Cervical dystonia is a pain condition in which the neck muscles contract involuntarily, causing the head to twist or turn to one side. It can also cause the head to uncontrollably tilt forward or backward.

    You should visit your primary care physician to confirm the diagnosis and discuss treatment options for managing symptoms.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    repetitive abnormal head and neck posturing, pain in the back of the neck, tremor, spontaneous neck pain
    Symptoms that always occur with cervical dystonia (spasmodic torticollis):
    repetitive abnormal head and neck posturing
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Pain in the Back of the Neck

  • Q.How long has your neck pain been going on?
  • Q.Is the neck pain affecting:
  • Q.How severe is your neck pain?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, check our pain in the back of the neck symptom checker.

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Pain in the Back of the Neck Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced pain in the back of the neck have also experienced:

    • 8% Headache
    • 7% Pain in One Shoulder
    • 3% Nausea
  • People who have experienced pain in the back of the neck had symptoms persist for:

    • 28% Less Than a Week
    • 27% Over a Month
    • 26% Less Than a Day
  • People who have experienced pain in the back of the neck were most often matched with:

    • 30% Neck Sprain
    • 11% Temporomandibiular Joint (Tmj) Dysfunction Disorder
    • 6% Myofascial Pain Syndrome
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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Pain in the Back of the Neck Checker

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having pain in the back of the neck.

Take a quiz