What Causes Neck Pain and How Can You Fix It? | PT Effect

What Causes Neck Pain and How Can You Fix It?

Try these suggestions for treating and preventing neck pain
Read Time: 4 minutes
Dec 26, 2022

More than 30% of American adults experience chronic neck pain every year and up to 70% of adults will at some point in their lives experience neck pain intense enough to interfere with daily activities.

In this guide, we break down potential causes of neck pain and how to treat it.

What Can Cause Neck Pain?

There are a variety of things that can cause neck pain, from poor posture to injuries and diseases. The neck has to support the entire weight of your head and can be vulnerable to injury, pain, and restricted movement.

Muscle Strain

Tech neck syndrome graphic

Muscle strain is a common cause of neck pain. It can occur from overuse or staying in the same position for too long. Hunching while sitting at a computer, looking down at a smartphone or tablet, reading in bed, or even just gritting your teeth can strain your neck muscles enough to cause pain. You can even strain your neck muscles by sleeping in the wrong position.

Nerve Compression

Neck pain can also be the result of nerve compression. A bone spur or a herniated disk that occurs in the neck vertebrae can cause neck pain when they press on the spinal cord’s nerve endings in the neck.

Joint Wear and Tear

As with any other joint in your body, your neck joints can experience wear and tear as you age. If you have osteoarthritis, the cartilage between your neck vertebrae can deteriorate over time. Because the cartilage cushions the bones from rubbing against each other, when it deteriorates, it can result in bone spurs that can cause pain and inhibit the motion of the neck


Neck pain can also result from injuries. For example, whiplash is a common injury sustained in car accidents. Whiplash occurs when the head is jerked first backward and then forward again, such as at the moment of impact in an accident, which strains the neck muscles.


Neck pain can also be caused by diseases such as arthritis, cancer, or meningitis. Neck pain is also a symptom of a heart attack. To determine whether your neck pain is just strained muscles or if it’s a symptom of something worse, you should look for other symptoms. For example, neck pain alone may not be indicative of a heart attack. However, neck pain accompanied by shortness of breath, sweating, arm pain, nausea, and vomiting, may very well be a sign of a potential heart attack.

How Can You Treat Neck Pain?

Many people may be able to treat their neck pain at home. If you have minor neck pain or stiffness, you can try the following:

  • Taking a hot shower
  • Using a hot compress or heating pad
  • Icing the area
  • Avoiding heavy lifting
  • Taking time off from exercise or sports
  • Practicing good posture
  • Don’t stay in one position for too long
  • Using speakerphone when possible
  • Having a neck massage
  • Using a special neck pillow while sleeping
  • Doing yoga poses

When Should You See a Doctor?

Man with neck injury after car accident

Not all neck pain can be treated at home. You should see a doctor if:

  • The pain is from an accident
  • The pain is severe
  • The pain lasts for more than a few days
  • You have pain in your arms or legs
  • You also have a headache
  • You are experiencing tingling, weakness, or numbness

How Can You Prevent Neck Pain?

While not all neck pain is preventable, you may be able to prevent neck pain caused by muscle strain. To prevent neck pain, you can try:

  • Practicing good posture
  • Taking breaks from sitting
  • Using speakerphone or a headset
  • Keeping your computer monitor at eye level
  • Quitting smoking
  • Avoiding carrying heavy bags over your shoulder
  • Making sure your head and neck are aligned with your body when you sleep
  • Using a supportive pillow while you sleep
  • Sleeping with a pillow under your thighs to flatten your spinal cord
Contact us to schedule your first physical therapy session for neck pain. No matter the injury, our team of experienced professionals is here to help.

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Mark Shulman

Dr. Mark Shulman

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), FAAOMPT, COMT, CSCS


Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapists.

Mark Shulman

Dr. Allison McKay

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), PRPC


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