Neck Pain Explained by a Physiotherapist

Neck pain is complex and though it can sometimes be attributed to a bad sleeping position, it may also be a symptom for something severe. It should not be taken lightly and should be closely monitored. In this blog post we take you through the causes, treatments, and home remedies for neck pain.  

What is Neck Pain? 

Pain is an uncomfortable feeling that tells you something is wrong or there is potential to damage tissue, therefore it is important to be cautious and aware of neck pain. In the nervous system it is usually caused by pressure on the spinal cord or parts of the brain.

Your neck is made up of 7 vertebrae that extend from the skull to the upper torso. Cervical discs made up of jello-like cartilage that act as shock absorption between your vertebrae which are the bones of your spine. 

Your head, which is almost 10% of your total body weight, is supported by the bones, ligaments, and muscles of your neck. Any trauma or abnormalities in these structures can cause neck pain and stiffness. 

Occasional neck pain is common and is usually a result of poor posture, overuse, injury from a fall, contact sports, or whiplash. Pain should typically heal in a few days, however, be cautious as it can be a symptom of something severe that requires a doctor’s intervention. 

If pain continues for more than a week, is severe, or is accompanied by other symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.

What are some Causes of Neck pain? 

Muscle tension and strain

This is usually due to activities and behaviours such as:

    • Bad sleeping position
    • Jerking your neck during exercise (cracking your neck)
    • Poor posture
    • Working long hours at a desk without changing position



Car accidents, sports injuries and falls are common causes of neck injuries. The complex nature of the neck makes it vulnerable to injury. If the neck bones or cervical vertebrae are fractured, the spinal cord may be damaged requiring extensive treatment. 

If you’ve been in an accident or fall and experience neck pain, seek medical care immediately.

Heart attack

Neck pain is a symptom of a heart attack but will usually be in combination with other symptoms such as:

    • Shortness of breath
    • Sweating
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Arm or jaw pain

If your neck hurts and you have other symptoms of heart attack, call an ambulance or go to the emergency room immediately.

Other Causes

  • Rheumatoid arthritis causes pain, swelling of the joints, and bone spurs. When these occur in the neck area pressure builds on your nerves and causes pain.
  • Osteoporosis weakens bones and can lead to small fractures. This condition often happens in hands or knees, but may occur in the neck.
  • Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes muscle pain throughout the body, especially in the neck and shoulder region.
  • Spondylosis or osteoarthritis of the neck causes the cervical discs to degenerate. This narrows the space between the vertebrae, adding pressure to your spinal cord and stress to your joints.
  • Herniated cervical disk (a ruptured or slipped disk) caused by trauma or injury may add pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots.
  • Spinal stenosis puts pressure on the spinal cord as the spinal column gets narrower. This is potentially due to long-term inflammation caused by arthritis or other conditions.

In rare instances, neck stiffness or pain can be caused by:

  • Congenital abnormalities
  • Infections
  • Abscesses
  • Tumors
  • Cancer of the spine

When to See your Doctor?

If symptoms persist for more than a week, consult with your doctor. You should also see a doctor if you have:

  • Severe neck pain without apparent cause
  • Lump in your neck
  • Any fever, headache, swollen glands, nausea, or vomiting
  • Trouble swallowing or breathing
  • Weakness, numbness, or tingling
  • Pain radiating down arms or legs
  • Inability to move arms or hands
  • Inability to touch your chin to your chest
  • Bladder or bowel dysfunction

How is Neck Pain Treated?

Doctor will perform a physical exam and take your medical history. Share ALL prescription, over-the-counter medications, and supplements you’ve been taking. Even if it doesn’t seem related, let your doctor know about any recent injuries or accidents you’ve had.

Your doctor may use one of the following tests to help with the diagnosis:

Depending on the results, your doctor may refer you to a specialist. Treatment for neck pain may include:

Alternative therapies include:

*Make sure you’re seeing a licensed professional when using these methods*

How to ease neck pain at home?

If you have minor neck pain or stiffness, take these simple steps to relieve it:

  • Apply ice for the first few days. After that, apply heat with a heating pad, hot compress, or by taking a hot shower.
  • Take over the counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol).
  • Take a break from activities that aggravate your symptoms including heavy lifting. When you resume normal activity, do so slowly as your symptoms ease.
  • Exercise your neck every day. Slowly stretch your head in side-to-side and up-and-down motions.
  • Pay attention to your posture and actively correct yourself 
  • Avoid cradling phone between your neck and shoulder.
  • Change your position often. Don’t stand or sit in one position for too long.
  • Get a gentle neck massage.
  • Use a special neck pillow for sleeping.
  • Don’t use a neck brace or collar without your doctor’s approval. If you don’t use them properly, they can make your symptoms worse.

What’s the outlook for people with neck pain?

Neck pain is usually caused by poor posture and muscle strain. Resting and practicing good posture will help manage the pain. See your doctor if neck pain isn’t improving with home treatments.

The Physio Shop specializes in evidence-based physiotherapy and massage therapy in a sweet commercial drive clinic, with a friendly barbershop feel. Plus, we do virtual sessions too, because 2020 right? If you’re dealing with nagging aches and pains, schedule a session with our finest Physiotherapists or Massage Therapists today. Or stop by and say hello to Sophie, that works too.