Neck pain: causes, diagnosis, rehabilitation

A healthy neck provides freedom of movement and is responsible for keeping the head in the correct position. Cervical pain is a common condition that affects many groups of people. The causes of pain can be different: from muscle overload and tension caused by hours of work in front of the computer, to degenerative changes in the spine, tumors.

Causes of discomfort and pain

The neck, by definition, is the anatomical connection of the head and trunk. This is a basic characteristic of all vertebrates, including humans. It is here that the initial sections of the respiratory and digestive systems are located, an organ of the endocrine system – the thyroid gland. Discomfort in the form of neck pain is one of the most common dysfunctions and disorders of the musculoskeletal system. If there were any interventions in the above anatomical structures, then the nature of the pain is clear and easily explained. However, what is the cause of pain in the normal course of life?

The most common causes of neck pain are overload and structural diseases, including:

  • degenerative changes in the cervical spine;
  • the consequences of injuries;
  • trigeminal neuralgia;
  • vascular changes;
  • stress or fatigue, causing increased tension in the neck muscles.

In children and adolescents, neck pain can be caused by a curvature of the spine, stoop that occurs while doing homework or working / playing at the computer. Neck pain can also be the result of insufficient physical activity, prolonged sitting in front of a monitor, or improper sleeping position – neck discomfort in the morning. Additional reasons may also be intense overloading or stretching of this area.

Trigger points can be found depending on the location of the pain. These are active painful areas, which are thickened bands of muscle fibers. Not all of them pose a danger to human health, since they can be caused by psychological problems, fatigue, depression. However, you should not ignore the symptoms, because in some cases painful points can become the first bells for the development of serious diseases, including cancer (Hodgkin’s lymphoma).


For a variety of reasons, neck discomfort usually goes away on its own. But with an acute character, it is better to consult a physiotherapist or doctor. Communication and examination of the patient is the main diagnostic tool. Distinguish pain in the front, in the back, in the neck on the left or right, on both sides, or from one part of the neck.

Palpation and medical tests are performed by a specialist to assess mobility and functionality. Any doubts about the etiology of pain are direct prescriptions for further examination.

Suspicion of degeneration of the cervical vertebrae, post-traumatic injuries can be clearly seen on X-rays, chronic pain in the neck, shoulders, waking up the patient at night, suggests inflammatory changes and requires magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) of the cervical vertebrae, laboratory tests.

Fainting or loss of consciousness when turning your head may mean that blood flow in the carotid arteries is impaired. Suspicion of such vascular pathology may mean the need for vascular tests, such as Doppler, to accurately assess the state of the circulatory system. Swallowing problems combined with neck pain can raise the suspicion of stomach problems.


A variety of therapies and techniques provide a wide range of options for treating neck pain. Most of them are clinically proven by rehabilitators. Manual therapy elements can be especially helpful for neck-related headaches.

  • 1
    Therapy in the cervical segments and cervicothoracic junction. It helps to reduce the pathological muscle tone, which contributes to the development of disorders affecting the structure of soft and bone tissues. Best results are obtained for headaches radiating to the left or right shoulder, and neck pain when twisting.
  • 2
    Soft tissue therapy is a gentle form of treatment using gentle methods. One of them can be a massage of the neck muscles, followed by their relaxation. Intervention in the neck area allows this therapy to be used on the structures of the posterior part, trapezium, scapula, anterior, medial and posterior oblique muscles, often also in the region of the chest structures.

The advantage of this method is that it can be used in both acute and chronic conditions.

Any neck dysfunction requires strength training. The use of properly selected physical exercises in kinesiology services is designed to strengthen the deep muscles of the neck.

Strength training elements, performed according to the rules, bring the most benefit of all the previously mentioned treatments. This helps to relieve pain and prevent recurrence, thus constituting a preventive effect.

Regular physical therapy makes it possible to use physical factors to support movement therapy treatments. It is even cold treatment – cryotherapy, which has analgesic, regenerative and anti-inflammatory effects, which is important for inflammation of the neck, tendons and muscles. Laser therapy, electrotherapy, alternating magnetic field effects and balneology components are used.

Some of them can be used at home, for example, mud masks, which, due to heat exchange and the content of valuable minerals, reduce tension and relieve pain.

Sometimes it is necessary to use pharmacological agents. The specialist may prescribe pain relievers in the form of tablets, injections, and ointments. They usually belong to the group of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that have analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects.


With pain in the muscles of the neck, it is very important to determine the cause and eliminate the factor that causes this condition. Prevention and knowledge of the etymology of diseases are also key.

Exercise, computer breaks, a properly mattress and pillow, and ergonomics at work are all part of preventive measures.

An example of a beneficial effect on the regulation of myofascial tension is the use of self-therapy:

  • 1
    To relax the front of the fascia of the neck, sit with your back straight. The arms should be crossed, placed on the chest and pressed against it. The head should be slightly raised. Holding this position for 90 seconds a day will gradually reduce tension.
  • 2
    The next suggestion for reducing neck pain is to move the head forward so that the chin touches the sternum, then straighten and bend again, this time to the right and left, touching the shoulder and turning.
  • 3
    An exercise to stretch the lateral muscles of the neck while sitting on a chair is effective. To do this, the left hand is located on the temporal part of the head, the right hand rests on a chair. Next, you should lightly press on the head and create some resistance for 10-20 seconds. Then relax your head and try to repeat the exercise while increasing your resistance. After several approaches, change hands and repeat the movements on the other side.