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Most people experience neck pain at some time in their life. It is usually not something to worry about and will normally get better on its own.

However, if you find that your neck pain is persistent, lasts more than few weeks, is severe or is accompanied by other symptoms, you should speak to a doctor as soon as possible.

What does neck pain feel like?

Neck pain can vary from person to person, but some of the symptoms you may have include:

  • Pain or stiffness that may radiate down from your neck to your shoulders
  • Tense muscles, which are hard and sore to touch
  • Weakness in your shoulders or arms
  • Tingling sensations in your hands and arms

Causes of neck pain

Some of the most common reasons you may experience neck pain include if you have:

  • poor posture, such as if you sit at a desk all day
  • slept in an awkward position
  • suffered a neck injury, such as whiplash
  • overused the muscles.

However, sometimes neck pain can be a sign of something else, including:

Heart attack

Neck pain may be a sign of a heart attack, but other symptoms will also be present, such as a shortness of breath, arm or jaw pain, nausea, vomiting or sweating. If you recognise these symptoms, you should call 999 immediately for medical help.

Meningitis

This is an inflammation of the tissue that surrounds your brain and spinal cord. If you are unwell with a fever and headache, along with neck pain, you should seek emergency treatment immediately, as this condition is extremely serious.

Acute torticollis

This is when your neck twists to one side and gets stuck in that position – it is often called a locked or twisted neck. You will usually recover after 48 hours, but sometimes it can take a little longer.

Cancer

Although rare, some cancers have been linked to a pain in the neck, and this can be one of the first symptoms displayed.

Degenerative disc disease

Spinal discs will deteriorate as you age, which can lead to compression of the spine and you may experience neck pain as a result.

Rheumatoid arthritis

This causes pain and swelling in the joints of the neck, usually as well as in many other joints of the body.

Herniated disc

A thoracic, lumbar or cervical disc may become ruptured. This is also known as a slipped disc and can irritate the nerves. If you have a slipped disc in the neck then you will experience often quite bad pain.

Spinal stenosis

The spinal column can become narrow and cause pressure on the nerves. You may develop this if you have inflammation from other conditions, such as arthritis.

Tension

You neck pain may also be caused by tension, for example, if you are worried, stressed or anxious.

These are just some possible causes of neck pain, your bad neck may be due to one of these or a number of other conditions. Speak to a GP if you are worried.

Treating neck pain

You can usually manage your neck pain with over-the-counter medication, such as ibuprofen or paracetamol. There are also gels that contain ibuprofen available, and these can be applied directly to the affected area to help relieve your pain.

A heat pad, or hot water bottle can also help ease your symptoms, or you could try a cold pack to see if this is more effective. Neck exercises may also help.

When should I see a doctor about neck pain?

If you’re worried that your neck pain is getting too much for you to manage, and over the counter painkillers aren’t helping, it’s important that you speak to a doctor and get the help that you need. Likewise, see a doctor if:

  • the pain doesn’t improve after a few weeks
  • you have a lack of coordination
  • your bladder control has gone
  • you have a high temperature
  • you have lost weight without explanation.

If your neck pain is following a serious injury or illness, or you have a history of cancer or a weakened immune system, you should also see a doctor.

How can Push Doctor help?

At Push Doctor, our GPs can listen to your situation and offer you tailored advice so that you can start to feel better. If your pain is severe, you may be prescribed more powerful pain medication, or they can refer you to a specialist, such as a physiotherapist, for further investigation and treatment.

You can see a GP about your neck pain at a time that suits you. Our doctors are available 7 days a week and can offer you the advice, diagnosis and treatment you may need. They can also refer you to a specialist for further investigation or for physical therapy if needed.