Neck Pain Animation
Why Your Neck Aches and How to Treat It
In this minute-long video, you will learn about the basics of neck pain and the most common cause of the condition: strain in the muscles or other soft tissues in the neck.
Cervical Spine Anatomy
Your spine consists of 33 vertebrae; the top 7 of these are located in your neck, which is also called your cervical spine. You may hear your doctor refer to the 7 vertebrae in your cervical spine by a letter and a number: C1–C7 (‘C’ stands for cervical). Since your head can weigh 8 pounds or more, your cervical spine has a pretty big responsibility—it must support your head and help it move.
The vertebrae in your cervical spine are surrounded by a network of muscles, joints, blood vessels, nerves, and ligaments. The muscles and joints in your neck are what allow you to shake, nod, hold, and turn your head at different angles.
In between the vertebrae, you have intervertebral discs, shock-absorbing discs which help cushion your movements. The discs are made up of a fibrous, outer cartilage (the annulus fibrosus) and an inner gel (nucleus pulposus).
Common Neck Pain Causes
Neck pain commonly occurs when there is strain placed on the muscles or ligaments that surround the vertebrae in your cervical spine. This can happen for a number of reasons: you may fall asleep in an uncomfortable position, for example, or you may lift a heavy object incorrectly.
Besides injuries that occur in normal daily life, neck pain may also be caused by age-related disorders, such as spinal osteoarthritis (cartilage in the cervical spine deteriorates), or spinal stenosis (the narrowing of nerve passageways located between the vertebrae or of the spinal canal). To read more about these and other neck pain causes, read our Neck Pain Causes article.
Neck Pain Treatments
For many people who experience neck pain, the pain goes away on its own after a few days. Only a small number of people will require more serious treatment, like surgery. You may be able to treat your neck pain with stretches, over-the-counter and prescription medications, and physical therapy. You may also wish to talk to your doctor about complementary and alternative treatments for neck pain, such as acupuncture and massage.
If you have neck pain that does not go away after a few days, or if it is accompanied by other symptoms (such as tingling in the arms or other parts of your body), call your primary care physician or spine specialist.
- Taylor MT. My Neck Hurts! Nonsurgical Treatments for Neck and Upper Back Pain. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press; 2010.