What are the most common causes of neck pain? Symptoms, Treatments and Prevention

Jun 05, 2023

misc image

Our providers at Garden State Pain and Orthopedics specialize in treating neck and back pain. Here are the most common causes of neck pain, how it can be treated, and how it can be prevented.

Neck pain can significantly impact a person's daily life and overall well-being. While there are numerous potential causes of neck pain, understanding the most common culprits can aid in prevention, management, and seeking appropriate treatment. 

What are the most common causes of neck pain?

Poor Posture

One of the leading causes of neck pain in today's digital era is poor posture. Prolonged periods of slouching or hunching over electronic devices, such as smartphones and laptops, can strain the muscles and ligaments in the neck. This strain can lead to muscle imbalances, stiffness, and discomfort. Practicing proper ergonomics and maintaining good posture while sitting, standing, and using electronic devices can help alleviate and prevent neck pain.

Muscle Strain

Muscle strain is a common cause of neck pain, often resulting from activities that involve repetitive or prolonged neck movements. Poor lifting techniques, sudden jerking motions, or engaging in sports without proper warm-up and conditioning can strain the neck muscles. Lifting heavier weights than you can handle can also cause neck strains. Symptoms of muscle strain include localized pain, stiffness, and limited range of motion. Rest, applying heat or cold packs, gentle stretching exercises, and over-the-counter pain medications are usually sufficient for treating muscle strain-related neck pain. 

Whiplash Injuries

Whiplash is a neck injury commonly associated with motor vehicle accidents, particularly rear-end collisions. They also occur during impact sports such as football and rugby. The sudden, forceful back-and-forth motion of the head can strain or tear the neck's supporting ligaments and muscles. Whiplash often presents with symptoms such as neck pain, stiffness, headaches, dizziness, and even cognitive difficulties. Immediate medical evaluation and a comprehensive treatment plan, RICE therapy,  physical therapy, pain management, and sometimes neck braces, are crucial for recovery. It is important to see a physician if you experience a severe whiplash injury to prevent further damage. impact  injuries that cause whiplash may also cause a concussion. 

Herniated Discs

A herniated or slipped disc occurs when the soft inner core of a spinal disc protrudes through its outer shell. When this happens in the cervical spine (neck), it can compress nearby nerves and cause significant neck pain. Herniated discs often stem from age-related degeneration, trauma, or repetitive strain. In addition to neck pain, symptoms may include radiating pain, tingling, or numbness down the arms. Treatment options range from conservative measures like physical therapy, pain medication, and epidural injections to surgical intervention in severe cases. Herniated discs can also cause sciatic pain. 

“The most common cause of sciatic pain is a herniated disc. There are little discs in-between the vertebrae, and when the discs push out like jelly it causes pinching of the nerve. The nerve will feel like it’s getting pushed up against the wall, and fire a lot of mediators that run down into your leg and cause shooting, burning pain.” - Dr Andrew So, Pain Medicine Physician at Garden State Pain and Orthopedics 


Arthritis, specifically osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, can affect the neck and cause chronic neck pain. Osteoarthritis, often associated with wear and tear over time, leads to the gradual breakdown of the cartilage in the joints. The rubbing of the joints becomes painful. Rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune condition, causes inflammation and damage to the joints. Both conditions can result in neck pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility. Treatment options may include pain management strategies, physical therapy, lifestyle modifications, and in some cases, surgery.

Stress and Tension

In today's fast-paced world, stress and tension can take a toll on our bodies, including the neck. Emotional stress and anxiety can cause muscle tension and tightness in the neck and shoulders. Prolonged stress may lead to chronic muscle strain and pain. Combating stress through relaxation techniques, mindfulness practices, regular exercise, and seeking professional help when needed can play a vital role in managing stress-related neck pain.

The expert physicians at Garden State Pain and Orthopedics specialize in treating neck pain. However, the best way to treat neck pain is to prevent it from happening at all. Preventing neck pain involves adopting healthy habits and making lifestyle adjustments.

How to Prevent Back Pain

  • Maintain good posture: Practice proper posture while sitting, standing, and walking. Keep your head aligned with your spine, and avoid slouching or hunching over.
  • Have an Ergonomic workspace: Set up your workspace ergonomically by adjusting your chair, desk, and computer monitor to ensure your neck and back are properly supported. Use a chair with good lumbar support and position your monitor at eye level.
  • Take breaks from electronic devices: Limit the time spent on smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Take frequent breaks to stretch and relax your neck muscles.
  • Use a supportive pillow and mattress: Choose a pillow that supports the natural curve of your neck and a mattress that provides proper spinal alignment. Avoid using pillows that are too high or too stiff.
  • Exercise regularly: Engage in regular physical activity to strengthen the muscles that support your neck and improve overall posture. Focus on exercises that target the neck, shoulders, and upper back. 
  • Lift properly: When lifting heavy objects, use your legs instead of straining your neck and back. Keep the object close to your body and avoid twisting or jerking motions. Also, try to avoid ego-lifting in the gym.
  • Stretching and range of motion exercises: Incorporate neck stretches and range of motion exercises into your daily routine to maintain flexibility and relieve tension in the neck muscles.
  • Avoid prolonged sitting: If you have a sedentary job, make an effort to get up and move around every hour. Perform simple neck stretches and shoulder rolls to alleviate tension.
  • Manage stress: Practice stress management techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, and relaxation exercises, to reduce muscle tension and prevent stress-related neck pain.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Excess weight puts additional strain on your neck and spine. Adopt a balanced diet and engage in regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of neck pain.
  • Stay hydrated: Proper hydration helps maintain the elasticity of spinal discs, which can reduce the risk of neck pain. Drink an adequate amount of water throughout the day.

Neck pain can significantly disrupt our daily lives, affecting our ability to work, sleep, and enjoy leisure activities. By understanding the most common causes of neck pain, we can take precautions to try and prevent the pain from occuring in the first place. The doctors at Garden State Pain and Orthopedics’ specialize in treating neck and back pain. Whether you have recently been in a car accident, sustained a sports injury, or developed pain from your daily routine, we have a personalized treatment plan for you. If you are interested in reading more about our neck treatments visit our Services page or select “Book Now” to schedule an appointment.