Symptoms A-Z

Pain in The Back of The Neck Symptom, Causes & Questions

Understand your pain in the back of the neck symptoms, including 9 causes & common questions.

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9 Possible Pain In The Back Of The Neck Causes

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced pain in the back of the neck. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Neck sprain

Neck sprain, sometimes called "whiplash," means that the ligaments – the tough, fibrous bands that connect bones together – in the neck have been torn or overstretched.

It is caused by a sudden impact that causes the head to whip back and forth very suddenly, most commonly from an automobile accident or riding a fast amusement park ride. A sports injury may force the neck to overstretch, spraining the ligaments.

Symptoms include pain and stiffness in the neck, shoulders, and upper back; dizziness; ringing in the ears; and sometimes spots of numbness in the hands and arms.

It is important to see a medical provider about these symptoms, to rule out any damage to the spinal cord. Paralysis, difficulty walking, or loss of control over bladder and bowels indicate a medical emergency. Take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination, tests of reflexes, and sometimes x-ray, CT scan, or MRI.

Treatment includes rest and over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to ease pain and reduce inflammation. Muscle relaxants may be prescribed.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: headache, pain in the back of the neck, shoulder pain, 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

Pinched nerve in the neck

A pinched nerve in the neck is also called cervical radiculopathy. It means that a nerve in the neck, at a point where it branches off from the spinal cord, is being compressed by the surrounding bones, muscles, or other tissues.

It can be caused by a traumatic injury, such as from sports or an automobile accident, especially if the injury results in a herniated disk. It may also arise from the normal wear and tear of aging.

Symptoms include sharp, burning pain with numbness and tingling from the neck to the shoulder, as well as weakness and numbness into the arm and hand.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and simple neurological tests to check the reflexes. Imaging such as x-ray, CT scan, or MRI may be done, as well as electromyography to measure nerve impulses in the muscles.

A pinched nerve in the neck often improves with simply a few days or weeks of rest. Physical therapy, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and steroid injections into the spine can all be very helpful.

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

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Wryneck

Wryneck is a twisted neck in which the head is tipped to one side, while the chin is turned to the other.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: neck pain on one side, difficulty moving the neck, constant neck pain, pain that causes the neck to bend

Symptoms that always occur with wryneck: pain that causes the neck to bend, neck pain on one side, constant neck pain

Symptoms that never occur with wryneck: neck pain that shoots to the arm, arm weakness, arm numbness

Urgency: Self-treatment

Tension headache (previously undiagnosed)

Tension headache is described as feeling like there is a band around the head that gets tighter and tighter. The headaches may occur in episodes – a few times a week – or chronically, where they almost never entirely go away.

This is a common type of headache but the cause remains unclear. It may be a combination of stress and an overactive sensitivity to pain.

Symptoms include dull, aching pain and tightness in the forehead, sides, and back of the head, and sometimes pain in the neck and shoulder muscles. Unlike migraines, there is usually no nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light.

Tension headaches are not dangerous in themselves, but can interfere with work and with quality of life.

Diagnosis is made through patient history and sometimes physical examination. CT scan or MRI may be done to rule out a more serious cause of the headaches.

Over-the-counter and other pain relievers are sometimes prescribed. Lifestyle changes to reduce stress, improve diet, and increase exercise are often helpful, as is massage and biofeedback.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: history of headaches, nausea or vomiting, moderate headache, loss of appetite, mild headache

Symptoms that always occur with tension headache (previously undiagnosed): history of headaches

Symptoms that never occur with tension headache (previously undiagnosed): change in urine color, photo and phonophobia, throbbing headache, headache resulting from a head injury

Urgency: Self-treatment

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Rheumatoid arthritis

Arthritis is a general term for multiple conditions that cause painful inflammation and stiffness throughout the body. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic condition that is autoimmune in nature, meaning that the body's immune system which normally protects the body by att...

Herniated (slipped) disk in the upper back

The backbone, or spine, is made up of 26 bones called vertebrae. In between the bones are soft disks filled with a jelly-like substance. These disks cushion the vertebrae and keep them in place. Although people talk about a slipped disk, nothing actually slips out of place. The outer shell of the disk ruptures, and the jelly-like substance bulges out. It may be pressing on a nerve, which is what causes the pain.A slipped disk is more likely to happen due to strain on the back, such as during heavy lifting, and older individuals are at higher risk.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: upper back pain, neck pain, arm weakness, back pain that gets worse when sitting, upper spine pain

Symptoms that always occur with herniated (slipped) disk in the upper back: upper back pain

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Temporomandibular joint (tmj) dysfunction disorder

Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction is often caused by a variety of factors, including daily habits, your teeth alignment, and even stress. It usually affects one side of the jaw, but in some people it can affect both sides. People with TMJ dysfunction will typically experience pain on one side of the face that is worse with chewing, yawning, or other movements of the jaw. With some simple changes in your daily habits and other at-home treatments, most people with TMJ dysfunction will experience relief of their symptoms within weeks.

Treatment for temporomandibular joint dysfunction usually includes avoiding eating hard foods or foods that require a lot of chewing. Good posture and relaxation techniques may help relieve tension in the muscles that connect to your temporomandibular joint. In people who clench or grind their teeth, a mouth guard worn at night (and fitted by your dentist) may also help relieve your symptoms. Pain relievers, like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), can also help.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: dizziness, pain, restricted movement, and clicking sounds from jaw, history of headaches, jaw pain, pain in the back of the neck

Symptoms that always occur with temporomandibular joint (tmj) dysfunction disorder: pain, restricted movement, and clicking sounds from jaw

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Repetitive strain injury of the neck

Repetitive strain injury of the neck is caused by consistent repetitive use.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: neck pain from overuse, neck weakness, neck tingling

Symptoms that always occur with repetitive strain injury of the neck: neck pain from overuse

Symptoms that never occur with repetitive strain injury of the neck: neck injury, severe neck pain

Urgency: Self-treatment

Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a set of chronic symptoms that include ongoing fatigue, diffuse tenderness to touch, musculoskeletal pain, and usually some degree of depression.

The cause is not known. When fibromyalgia appears, it is usually after a stressful physical or emotional event such as an automobile accident or a divorce. It may include a genetic component where the person experiences normal sensation as pain.

Almost 90% of fibromyalgia sufferers are women. Anyone with rheumatic disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, may be more prone to fibromyalgia.

Poor sleep is often a symptom, along with foggy thinking, headaches, painful menstrual periods, and increased sensitivity to heat, cold, bright lights, and loud noises.

There is no standard test for fibromyalgia. The diagnosis is usually made when the above symptoms go on for three months or more with no apparent cause.

Fibromyalgia does not go away on its own but does not get worse, either.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, arthralgias or myalgias, anxiety, depressed mood, headache

Symptoms that always occur with fibromyalgia: arthralgias or myalgias

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Pain In The Back Of The Neck

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Do you have any idea what may have caused your neck pain?
  • Are you experiencing a headache?
  • Can you fully move your neck in every direction?
  • Any fever today or during the last week?

The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

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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:

  • 9% Headache
  • 5% Pain In One Shoulder
  • 3% Nausea

People who have experienced pain in the back of the neck were most often matched with:

  • 50% Pinched Nerve In The Neck
  • 33% Neck Sprain
  • 16% Wryneck

People who have experienced pain in the back of the neck had symptoms persist for:

  • 27% Less than a week
  • 27% Over a month
  • 27% Less than a day

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Pain In The Back Of The Neck Symptom Checker

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Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.