What are the structures of the neck?

There are seven vertebrae that are the bony building blocks of the spine in the neck (the cervical vertebrae) that surround the spinal cord and canal. Between these vertebrae are discs, and nearby pass the nerves of the neck. Within the neck, structures include the skin, neck muscles, arteries, veins, lymph nodes, thyroid gland, parathyroid glands, esophagus, larynx, and trachea. Diseases or conditions that affect any of these tissues of the neck can lead to neck pain.

What are causes and risk factors for neck pain?

Neck pain can come from a number of disorders and diseases and can involve any of the tissues in the neck. Examples of common conditions causing neck pain are degenerative disc disease, neck strain, neck injury such as in whiplash, a herniated disc, or a pinched nerve. Neck pain can come from common infections, such as virus infection of the throat, leading to lymph node (gland) swelling and neck pain. Neck pain can also come from rare infections, such as tuberculosis of the neck, infection of the spine bones in the neck (osteomyelitis and septic discitis), and meningitis (often accompanied by neck stiffness). Neck pain can also come from conditions directly affecting the muscles of the neck, such as fibromyalgia and polymyalgia rheumatica. Neck pain is also referred to as cervical pain.

Risk factors for neck pain include injury from involvement in contact sports, motor-vehicle accidents, bull or bronco horse riding, etc. Prevention of neck pain in the context of these activities should include neck strengthening exercises and often neck bracing.

What are other symptoms that are associated with neck pain?

Neck pain is commonly associated with dull aching. Sometimes pain in the neck is worsened with movement of the neck or turning the head. Other symptoms associated with some forms of neck pain include numbness, tingling, tenderness, sharp shooting pain, fullness, difficulty swallowing, pulsations, swishing sounds in the head, dizziness or lightheadedness, and lymph node (gland) swelling.

Neck pain can also be associated with headache, facial pain, shoulder pain, and arm numbness or tingling (upper extremity paresthesias). These associated symptoms are often a result of nerves becoming pinched in the neck. Depending on the condition, sometimes neck pain is accompanied by upper back and/or lower back pain, as is common in inflammation of the spine from ankylosing spondylitis.

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