Severe Neck Pain Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Understand severe neck pain symptoms, including 9 causes & common questions.

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Contents

  1. 9 Possible Severe Neck Pain Causes
  2. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  3. Statistics
  4. Related Articles

9 Possible Severe Neck Pain Causes

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced severe neck pain. 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

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

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

Myofascial pain syndrome

Myofascial pain syndrome is also called chronic myofascial pain (CMP.) Pressure on certain points of the muscles causes referred pain, meaning the pain is felt elsewhere in the body.

The cause is believed to be muscle injury through overuse, either from sports or from a job requiring repetitive motion. Tension, stress, and poor posture can also cause habitual tightening of the muscles, a form of overuse.

This overuse causes scar tissue, or adhesions, to form in the muscles. These points are known as trigger points, since they trigger pain at any stimulus.

Symptoms include deep, aching muscular pain that does not go away with rest or massage, but may actually worsen. There is often difficulty sleeping due to pain.

Myofascial pain syndrome should be seen by a medical provider, since it can develop into a similar but more severe condition called fibromyalgia.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination and applying mild pressure to locate the trigger points.

Treatment involves physical therapy, pain medications, and trigger point injections. In some cases, acupuncture and antidepressants are helpful.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: dizziness, spontaneous shoulder pain, pain in the back of the neck, tender muscle knot, general numbness

Symptoms that always occur with myofascial pain syndrome: tender muscle knot

Urgency: Primary care doctor

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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 (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.

Rarity: Common

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

Symptoms that always occur with tension headache (first onset): new headache

Symptoms that never occur with tension headache (first onset): photo and phonophobia, throbbing headache, headache resulting from a head injury

Urgency: Self-treatment

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

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...

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Bacterial meningitis

Meningitis describes inflammation of the meninges, the layers of membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. Viruses, fungi, bacteria, and other rare causes can lead to meningitis. Streptococcus, Neisseria, Listeria, and Haemophilus are common bacterial causes of mening...

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Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Severe Neck Pain

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?

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

Please take a quiz to find out what might be causing your severe neck pain. These questions are also covered.

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Severe Neck Pain Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced severe neck pain have also experienced:

  • 6% Headache
  • 4% Pain In One Shoulder
  • 3% Throbbing Headache

People who have experienced severe neck pain were most often matched with:

  • 37% Fibromyalgia
  • 37% Pinched Nerve In The Neck
  • 25% Neck Sprain

People who have experienced severe neck pain had symptoms persist for:

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

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from Buoy Assistant (a.k.a. the quiz).

Severe Neck Pain Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your severe neck pain