Tests & Procedures



Neck Pain and Problems

What is neck pain?

A picture of an x-ray of the head
X-ray of the Head

The neck is located between the head and the shoulders. Because of its location and range-of-motion, it is often left unprotected and subject to injury.

What causes neck pain?

Neck pain can result from many different causes--from injury, to age-related disorders, to inflammatory disease. Causes of neck pain and problems may include the following:

  • Injury (damage to the muscles, tendons, and/or ligaments)
  • Herniated cervical disk
  • Arthritis (i.e., osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis)
  • Cervical disk degeneration 
  • Congenital (present at birth) abnormalities of the vertebrae and bones
  • Tumors

How is neck pain diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for neck pain may include the following:

  • Blood tests. These tests can help determine the diagnosis of inflammatory disease.
  • X-ray. A diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of bones onto film.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body; can often determine damage or disease of internal structures within our joints, or in a surrounding ligament or muscle.
  • Computed tomography scan (also called a CT or CAT scan). A diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general X-rays.
  • Electromyogram (EMG). A test to evaluate nerve function.

Treatment for neck pain

Specific treatment for neck pain will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history
  • Your diagnosis
  • Extent of the condition
  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the condition
  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment may include:

  • Medication (to reduce inflammation)
  • Medication (to control pain)
  • Rest
  • Physical therapy
  • Neck brace or immobilization
  • Exercise
  • Surgery

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Online Resources of Orthopaedic Surgery

Last reviewed: 11/19/2011