Cervical Pain: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment & More

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Cervical pain, also known as neck pain, is a common condition that affects many individuals at some point in their lives. It refers to discomfort or pain in the neck region, which can vary in intensity and duration. Cervical pain can have a significant impact on daily activities and overall quality of life. Understanding the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment options for cervical pain is crucial for effective management and relief. This article provides a comprehensive overview of cervical pain, highlighting its symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment options, and more.

Symptoms of Cervical Pain

The symptoms of cervical pain include persistent or intermittent neck pain, stiffness, reduced neck mobility, muscle spasms, headaches (particularly at the base of the skull), and pain that radiates to the shoulders, arms, or upper back. These symptoms can vary in severity and may worsen with certain movements or prolonged sitting or standing. Individuals with cervical pain may also experience secondary symptoms such as numbness or tingling sensations in the upper extremities, weakness in the arms or hands, and difficulty in gripping or holding objects [1] [2].

Causes of Cervical Pain [1] [2]

  • Muscle strain or sprain

Poor posture, such as slouching or hunching over a desk, can strain the muscles in the neck, leading to pain and discomfort. Repetitive neck movements or sudden jerking motions can also cause muscle strain or sprain.

  • Cervical disc herniation

The discs in the cervical spine can bulge or herniate, causing compression of nearby nerves and resulting in neck pain. This can occur due to age-related degeneration or injury.

  • Degenerative disc disease

With age, the discs between the vertebrae in the neck can degenerate, leading to pain and stiffness. This condition can cause narrowing of the spinal canal, known as cervical spinal stenosis.

  • Osteoarthritis

Wear and tear of the joints in the neck can lead to osteoarthritis, causing pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility. This condition commonly affects older adults.

  • Whiplash injuries

Sudden backwards and forward movements of the neck, often experienced in car accidents, can cause whiplash. This can result in cervical pain, along with other symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and difficulty concentrating.

  • Underlying medical conditions

Certain medical conditions, such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, spinal infections, or tumours, can contribute to cervical pain. These conditions may cause inflammation, nerve compression, or structural abnormalities in the cervical spine.

  • Emotional stress and psychological factors

Emotional stress and psychological factors, such as anxiety or depression, can contribute to the development or exacerbation of cervical pain. Stress can cause muscle tension and affect pain perception.

Diagnosis of Cervical Pain [1]

Diagnosing cervical pain involves a comprehensive evaluation to identify the underlying cause and develop an effective treatment plan. Here is a detailed overview of the diagnostic process:

  • Medical history

The healthcare professional will start by gathering a detailed medical history, including information about the onset of symptoms, their duration and intensity, any previous injuries or medical conditions, and factors that worsen or alleviate the pain. This helps in understanding the possible causes and contributing factors.

  • Physical examination

A thorough physical examination is conducted to assess the range of motion, strength, and stability of the neck. The healthcare professional may examine the neck and surrounding areas for signs of inflammation, tenderness, muscle spasms, or abnormalities in posture or alignment.

  • Imaging tests

Depending on the findings from the medical history and physical examination, imaging tests may be recommended to further evaluate the cervical spine. X-rays can provide detailed images of the bones and detect fractures, degenerative changes, or alignment issues. MRI or CT scans offer more detailed views of the soft tissues, discs, nerves, and spinal cord, allowing for a more comprehensive assessment of any structural abnormalities, such as disc herniation, spinal stenosis, or nerve compression.

  • Electromyography (EMG)

In some cases, an EMG test may be performed to evaluate the electrical activity of the muscles and nerves in the neck and upper extremities. This test helps identify any nerve damage or abnormalities in muscle function.

  • Diagnostic injections

In certain situations, diagnostic injections may be used to confirm or rule out specific causes of cervical pain. These injections involve injecting a local anaesthetic or a combination of anaesthetic and anti-inflammatory medication into specific structures, such as facet joints or nerve roots, to determine if they are the source of pain.

Treatment Options for Cervical Pain [3]

cervical pain treatment

The treatment of cervical pain aims to alleviate pain, improve neck function, and enhance the individual’s overall quality of life. Treatment options may include pain medications, physical therapy, heat or cold therapy, posture correction, injections, alternative therapies, and in severe cases, surgical intervention. The specific treatment plan will depend on the underlying cause and severity of the condition.


Cervical pain is a common condition that can significantly impact an individual’s well-being and quality of life. Recognizing the symptoms, understanding the underlying causes, and seeking appropriate medical care is essential for effective management and relief. By adopting healthy lifestyle habits, practising good posture, and following the recommended treatment options, individuals can minimize cervical pain and promote optimal neck health.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) [1] [3]

  • What are the common symptoms of cervical pain? 

Common symptoms of cervical pain include persistent or intermittent neck pain, stiffness, reduced neck mobility, muscle spasms, headaches, and pain that radiates to the shoulders, arms, or upper back.

  • What are the treatment options for cervical pain? 

Treatment options for cervical pain may include pain medications, physical therapy, heat or cold therapy, posture correction, injections, alternative therapies, and in severe cases, surgical intervention.

  • Can poor posture contribute to cervical pain? 

Yes, poor posture, especially during prolonged sitting or standing, can strain the muscles and ligaments in the neck, leading to cervical pain.

  • Is cervical pain a chronic condition? 

Cervical pain can range from acute (short-term) to chronic (long-term) depending on the underlying cause and individual factors. It is important to seek appropriate medical care for timely management and relief.


  1. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/21179-neck-pain#:~:text=Neck%20pain%2C%20or%20cervicalgia%2C%20can,Care%20and%20Treatment 
  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/neck-pain/symptoms-causes/syc-20375581 
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/neck-pain/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20375587

Dr. Shankar Rao

Dr. Rao has achieved great success in his career, with 5 research projects and 4 books to his credit, as well as a Monograph. In addition to receiving the Bharat Scout & Guide Award from the President of India, Dr Rao has also won the Young Scientist Award from S.V. University, Tirupati.