Neck Pain

What Causes Neck Pain?

Neck pain is common in people of all ages and is often caused by how we use our necks.

Working all day bent over a computer, driving long distances, poor posture while standing or sitting, stress and tiredness are all factors that can cause the muscles in the neck and upper back to become tight and the joints to become stiff which can contribute to ongoing neck pain.

Sometimes a nerve in your neck can become irritated or “trapped” and cause pain in the arm going down into your shoulder or the hand, and may be accompanied by pins and needles and numbness.

Some headaches can be the result of tension or stiffness in the neck and upper back. Osteoarthritis or age-related wear and tear in the neck can also cause muscular pain from the neck into the shoulder as well as some stiffness in moving the neck.

Some specific neck conditions include:

  • Cervical spondylosis – it’s quite normal for the discs and the facet joints to become worn as we get older. The discs between the vertebrae become thinner and the spaces between the bones become narrower.
  • Whiplash – is caused by your body being carried forward, causing your head to flip back. As your body stops, your head is thrown forwards. This happens most commonly in car accidents and sports injuries.
  • Tension – most muscles relax completely when they’re not being used, but some have to work all the time in order to keep your body upright. Muscles at the back of your neck must always be tensed, otherwise your head would fall forwards when you’re sitting or standing.


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How can Physiotherapy help?

Physiotherapists are highly skilled at supporting people with neck pain.

Your physio can use a wide range of gentle manipulations depending on your age, fitness and diagnosis to reduce muscular tension in the neck and improve movement in the joints of the neck and upper back. They may gently massage the soft tissues or rhythmically “rock” the joints to release tension and sometimes your physio may gently manipulate the neck to move the joints and you may hear a “click”.

Treatment is different in every individual and sometimes it might involve treating other areas in the back and shoulders as well as the neck.

Your physio may offer advice on your posture at work or in the car, and give advice on exercise and stretching to help keep your neck and upper back muscles and joints relaxed. X-rays, scans and other tests are sometimes required to make a diagnosis and your physio may refer you to your GP or a specialist for any additional investigations or treatment.


Top tips to prevent Neck Pain

  • Check your posture, so that you hold yourself comfortably upright
  • Gently strengthen your neck muscles, to help support your head
  • Take regular breaks from desk work, driving or any activity where your neck is held in one position
  • Keep your neck active and mobile to prevent stiffness but avoid bending your neck back though
  • Avoid reading for long in bed or using too many pillows
  • Shrug and lower your shoulders to ease tight muscles
  • Check your eyesight in case reading is making you stoop
  • Practice relaxation if you are prone to stress, to reduce tension across your shoulders and neck


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More information on Neck Pain

Arthritis Research UK – Neck pain education and information
NHS Choices – Comprehensive information on neck pain and neck stiffness

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