Neck Pain (Cervical Pain)

Chronic neck pain can keep you from working, pursuing outdoor activities, and can even lead to issues like chronic dizziness, headaches and nausea. But you don't have to suffer. Hoag can help you heal. Hoag Spine Institute is Orange County's choice for treatment of the spine. From innovations in physical therapy to the latest non-invasive treatment and pain-management options, there's a reason why Southern California trusts Hoag for treatment of the neck and back.

Need Neck Pain Treatment? Orange County Trusts Hoag for Advanced Diagnosis and Care of the Spine.

Chronic neck pain can keep you from working, being productive and enjoying what you love. It can even lead to symptoms like headaches and insomnia.

But you don’t have to live with it. At the Hoag Spine Institute, we’re committed every day to being the best and most patient-focused choice for spine treatment in Orange County. From comprehensive physical therapy and managed exercise programs to the latest innovations in pain management and non-invasive treatment options, our team of medical and surgical spine experts at Hoag is Orange County’s source for advanced diagnosis and treatment of the neck and back.

Read on for what you need to know about neck pain, including causes, key definitions and more. And if you need help in Orange County for issues involving the back, neck or spinal cord, contact the Hoag Spine Institute today at 949-764-1411 or through our online form.

What is Cervical Pain (Neck Pain)?

Neck pain, also called cervical pain or cervicalgia, is a common issue characterized by pain, stiffness or discomfort in the neck.

The neck consists of the upper seven vertebrae in the spinal column, along with the muscles, spinal discs and other soft tissues that help support and move the head. Issues like stress, disc degeneration or injury to these tissues can result in neck pain.

Neck pain can range from mild to severe. It can also be felt in different ways, with some people experiencing neck pain only when they perform certain movements, like turning their head or looking up or down. Others experience persistent pain all the time, even while holding their head still or when lying down.

Neck pain is also categorized by where it is felt. Radicular neck pain radiates from the neck to the upper body, sending severe, shooting pain into the arms and shoulders in serious cases. Axial neck pain, on the other hand, is felt solely in the neck, and doesn’t extend to other parts of the body.

Most neck pain isn’t dangerous, and improves on its own through at-home treatments like rest and over-the-counter pain medication. Neck pain that lasts only a few days or weeks is considered acute neck pain. Long-term neck pain that lasts more than three months is considered chronic neck pain.

What Can Cause Neck Pain?

Neck pain can be caused by a variety of different factors. Some of the more common causes of neck pain include:

Muscle Strain

Having strained muscles in the neck (also called having a stiff neck or neck muscle pain), is among the most common causes of neck pain. Muscle strain that can cause neck pain can be the result of a variety of factors, including fatigue, having poor posture, looking down too long at a phone or book, repetitive motions and other causes. Obesity can also lead to strain in the neck muscles, because the head is heavier than it should be.

Conservative treatment options like taking a hot shower, over the counter pain medications or using a heating pad or ice pack can usually relieve neck pain due to these issues. In more severe cases, however, treatments like muscle relaxants (commonly called “muscle relaxers”) or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation may be required to ease neck pain due to muscle strain.

Sleeping in an Awkward Position

If a person sleeps in an awkward position, in the same position all night or has a mattress or pillow that doesn’t provide good support for the head, they can sometimes wake up with neck pain (commonly called “a crick in the neck”), with even slight movements of the head making the pain worse. Luckily, neck pain due to sleep position issues usually goes away in a few hours.

Trauma or a Previous Neck Injury

Injuries and trauma to the neck are among the most common causes of neck pain. For example, sports injuries often contribute to neck pain. Another type of injury that often causes neck pain is whiplash, which can occur if a person is subjected to a violent impact that causes the head and neck to quickly and forcefully bend in one direction. Common causes of whiplash include car accidents, taking a hard hit during full-contact sports like football or wrestling and other issues that can cause neck trauma. Learn more about whiplash from Hoag.

Osteoarthritis of the Neck

Also known as cervical spondylosis, osteoarthritis of the neck is a degenerative disease that can affect the bones, discs and joints in the neck, often resulting in stiffness and pain. The condition occurs when the protective cartilage in the joints of the neck, including the facet joints that help give the neck strength and flexibility, gradually wear down over time due to factors like normal aging, repetitive stress or previous injury. Learn more about osteoarthritis from Hoag.

Herniated Discs in the Cervical Spine

Spinal discs are the soft pads between each of the seven vertebrae that make up the cervical spine (the neck). When they are healthy, these discs provide cushioning and support, allowing the neck and spine to be very flexible.

However, if the discs in the neck experience damage due to issues like injuries, repetitive stress or degenerative disc disease, they can herniate, with the soft inner material of the spinal disc (the nucleus pulposus) being pushed out through the disc’s tough outer shell (the annulus fibrosus).

In some cases, a herniated disc in the neck can bulge, putting pressure on spinal nerves, resulting in neck pain. Depending on the degree of herniation, issues can include severe pain, numbness and muscle weakness. In some cases, the pain of a herniated disc can be relieved by rest. In more severe cases, however, treatments like steroid injections or surgical procedures, including spinal fusion, may need to be considered. Learn more about herniated discs from Hoag.

A Pinched Nerve in the Neck (Cervical Radiculopathy)

A pinched nerve in the neck, also called cervical radiculopathy, occurs when a nerve root in the neck becomes compressed or irritated by nearby structures. Nerve roots are the points where nerves branch away from the spinal cord.

The compression of a nerve root that’s characteristic of a pinched nerve in the neck can be caused by a variety of issues, including herniated discs, bone spurs, spinal stenosis, arthritis and traumatic injuries. Whatever the cause, nerve compression disrupts the normal function of the nerve, which can lead to pain, numbness and muscle weakness in severe cases. Learn more about radiculopathy from Hoag.


Prolonged or intense stress can sometimes contribute to neck pain by causing tension in the neck muscles and other tissues that support the head. Taking the steps necessary to relieve tension and reduce stress can often ease pain in the neck in these cases

Certain Diseases

In some cases, neck pain can be the result of other medical conditions that are putting pressure on the nerves and other tissues of the neck. These conditions may include:

  • Tumors due to cancer.
  • Certain infections including meningitis.
  • Fibromyalgia, a condition that can cause hard-to-diagnose pain throughout the body.
  • Spondylolisthesis, which is a condition characterized by a vertebra becoming unstable and slipping over the vertebrae directly below it.

What are the Symptoms of Neck Pain?

Neck problems can cause a range of symptoms. These may include:

  • Acute or chronic pain: pain in the neck can range from a dull ache to sharp, stabbing pain, and can be located in different areas of the neck, including the back, sides or front.
  • Neck stiffness: those with issues causing pain in the neck may have difficulty moving the neck freely, especially when turning the head or tilting the head up and down.
  • Muscle tightness: Neck muscles can feel overly tight, leading to tensing, soreness and muscles being achy and painful to the touch.
  • Headaches: Neck pain sometimes causes headaches that can range from mild to severe — particularly tension headaches that radiate to the back of the head or seem to be located behind the eyes.
  • Radiating pain: Sometimes, pain in the neck due to irritated or compressed nerves can travel down the shoulder, arm or even into the fingers.

While less common, other, more serious symptoms of neck pain may include:

  • Numbness or tingling: numbness or tingling in the arms, hands or shoulders can indicate dangerous nerve compression and should be investigated by a doctor.
  • Weakness in the arms or hands: Weakness in the hands and arms, which may make it hard to lift or grip things, could be a sign of a more serious issue.
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing: While rare in cases involving neck pain, this a serious sign that could indicate an issue like a tumor in the neck or a serious nerve issue and requires immediate medical attention.

If you experience any of these less-common symptoms of neck problems, it may be a medical emergency. Seek a physical exam by a physician immediately.

How is Neck Pain Diagnosed at Hoag? With All Our Collective Skill, and the Latest Diagnostic Technology.

At the Hoag Spine Institute, we’re dedicated to one mission: providing comprehensive, life-changing spinal care for residents of Orange County and beyond.

Visit here to explore the tools, techniques and next-generation technologies we use to diagnose issues with the spinal column and spinal cord, including neck pain.

What are the Risk Factors for Neck Pain?

There are a variety of work-related issues, lifestyle choices and degenerative issues that can put you at greater risk for experiencing neck pain. These issues may include:

  • Having poor posture: slouching or looking at a downward angle while sitting, standing or sitting at a computer screen without taking frequent breaks to move around can put strain on your neck, which can cause neck pain. That makes good posture essential to avoiding these issues.
  • Having herniated discs in the back or neck, or bone spurs.
  • Having a job or hobby that involves repetitive motions of the neck: Activities involving repetitive movement of the neck, like playing certain sports or specific work tasks.
  • Recent or previous Neck Trauma: Injuries like whiplash from car accidents or falls can damage your vertebra, muscles, spinal discs or ligaments, leading to pain in the neck.
  • Having certain medical conditions: Medical conditions like arthritis, osteoporosis and herniated discs often contribute to neck pain.
  • Work-related factors: Neck pain is often the result of issues experienced at work. These issues can include sitting at a desk for long periods, work-related injuries, wearing heavy protective headgear like a fireman’s helmet or jobs that subject a person to prolonged, extreme vibration.
  • Certain lifestyle factors, including:
    • Lack of physical exercise, which can make the neck weak and more likely to experience injury that can lead to pain.
    • Smoking: Smoking tobacco restricts blood flow throughout the body, which can prevent neck injuries from healing properly.
    • Being obese: Being obese can increase the weight of the head, putting additional strain on the neck.
    • Being under stress: Chronic stress is often a contributing factor in having tightened muscles and pain in the neck.
    • Sleeping in an awkward position, or with the wrong pillow: If the head isn’t well supported during sleep, or if a person sleeps in an awkward position all night, that can result in neck pain.
    • Normal aging: As we age, the discs in the spine naturally lose moisture and become less flexible, increasing the risk of disc degeneration and damage that can cause neck pain.

Is There Any Way to Reduce My Risk of Neck Pain?

Ways to potentially prevent neck pain include:

  • Practice good posture while standing or sitting.
  • Take the steps you need to heal if you experience a serious injury or trauma to the neck and related soft tissues due to an issue like a car accident or fall, potentially including taking over the counter medication or using a heating pad or ice pack. If conservative treatments don’t relieve neck pain and your symptoms persist, seek professional medical care, including a physical exam by a doctor.
  • Take the steps necessary to maintain a healthy weight, including eating a diet that’s low in sugar, fat and carbohydrates.
  • Manage your stress levels, as tension in the muscles of the shoulders and neck can often make neck pain worse.

Experiencing Chronic Neck Pain in Orange County?

When your neck hurts due to an issue like a herniated disc putting pressure on nerve roots in the cervical spine, it can affect everything you do, including your ability to work, play or enjoy time with the people you love.

But those who need chronic neck pain treatment in Orange County have a powerful ally nearby, at the Hoag Spine Institute.

Every day, our nationally-recognized team of spine experts is united in one goal: providing the most advanced and patient-focused care in Orange County for issues of the neck and spine.

We accomplish that goal by putting your comfort and healing first in everything we do. From comprehensive physical therapy and mobility programs to advanced nerve conduction studies and next-generation surgical procedures to relieve pressure on the spinal cord due to issues like spinal stenosis or bone spurs, there’s just no place like Hoag.

Are you experiencing back or neck pain in Foothill Ranch, Corona Del Mar, Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach or other communities across Orange County? Then you deserve nothing but the best, including next-generation diagnostics and treatment options that can relieve pain in the neck for good. For questions or to schedule an appointment, please contact Hoag today at 949-764-1411 or through our online form.

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