Read below about 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.

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A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Pain in the Back of the Neck

Updated on Aug. 29, 2018

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced pain in the back of the neck. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.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.

    Most neck sprains get better within a few weeks.

    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
  2. 2.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.

    Majority of patients get better with time (weeks to months).

    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
  3. 3.Wryneck

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

    1-4 weeks

    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
  4. 4.Tension Headache (Previously Undiagnosed)

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

    Tension-type headache symptoms usually resolve within a few hours but can last up to a week. However, if this particular episode is unusually severe or debilitating, you may want to see a doctor urgently.

    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

    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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  5. 5.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.

    RA is a chronic disease which requires lifelong control.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, depressed mood, joint pain, muscle aches, daytime sleepiness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  6. 6.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.

    The pain associated with a slipped disk usually goes away within six weeks. If the pain lasts longer, consult a doctor. They may send you to see a back specialist for an MRI of your spine, and surgery may be considered.

    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
  7. 7.Temporomandibular 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.

    Outcome is highly case-dependent.

    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
  8. 8.Repetitive Strain Injury of the Neck

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

    Resolves with rest

    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
  9. 9.Fibromyalgia

    Fibromyalgia is a disorder that causes widespread pain, tenderness, and fatigue.

    Fibromyalgia is generally a lifelong condition

    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

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

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

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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 had symptoms persist for:

    • 27% Less Than a Week
    • 27% Over a Month
    • 27% Less Than a Day
  • 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
  • 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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