Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Cervicalgia is the medical term for neck pain. It is not usually a cause for concern, but you should discuss it with your doctor. Since your neck needs to continuously hold your head upright, you should try to keep it as pain-free as possible.According to the American College of Rheumatology, about 30% of people experience neck pain every year, and women tend to experience it more often than men.

This article discusses how cervicalgia can occur, the symptoms you may experience, and how to treat it.

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. For the purposes of this article, we use the terms “men” and “women” to refer to a person’s sex assigned at birth.


What are the causes of cervicalgia?

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The causes of cervicalgia can be related to the muscles, ligaments, connective tissues, or nerves of the neck. The discs or bones of the spine can also contribute.

In people over the age of 40 years, the middle part of the cervical disc in the spinal column can wear down. As the space between discs becomes more narrow, it can put pressure on the spine and cause pain in the neck. This condition is known as cervical disc degeneration and spondylosis.

The most common causes of cervicalgia are injuries to the muscles, connective tissues, discs, or bones of the neck and long-term wear and tear.

Cervicalgia can also result from:

  • having a poor posture
  • sleeping in a certain position
  • lifting heavy items
  • exercising
  • move your neck suddenly
  • sitting still for too long

Meningitis, which is a condition wherein the tissue surrounding the brain and spinal cord becomes inflamed, can cause neck stiffness, fever, and headaches.

Another cause of cervicalgia may be fibromyalgia, which is a condition that causes pain in your body’s muscles.

Rarely, cervicalgia can also be due to spinal cancer, tumors, or infections.

What are the symptoms of cervicalgia?

The main symptom of cervicalgia is pain focused in the neck. This pain can have different characteristics, including:

  • pain in the side or back of the neck
  • pain that is either sharp and stabbing or dull and constant
  • neck stiffness or tightness
  • Muscle spasms in the neck
  • pain when moving the neck

Cervicalgia may also occur along with other symptoms, including:

  • pain in the shoulders, arms, or upper back
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • tingling in the extremities

Depending on the cause, your symptoms might go away on their own in a few weeks, or you may need to seek medical treatment.

How do doctors diagnose cervicalgia?

To diagnose cervicalgia, your doctor will first perform a physical examination and ask you about your medical history and symptoms. It is important to tell your doctor about any recent injuries.

Imaging tests — such as X-rays, CT scans, or MRI scans — can help your doctor assess your soft tissues, spine, and nerves. Electromyography, which records electrical activity in your muscle tissue, can check your muscle and nerve control.

If your doctor suspects an infection or inflammatory condition, they may choose to order blood tests.

What are the treatments for cervicalgia?

Treatment for cervicalgia may involve at-home remedies, medications, physical therapy, alternative therapies, or surgery.

Some at-home treatments for cervicalgia may include:

  • taking time to relax and avoiding strenuous activities
  • applying warm or cold packs to the area
  • doing gentle stretches to help relieve neck pain or stiffness
  • changing positions throughout the day if you spend long periods at a desk
  • practicing good posture
  • sleeping with a pillow that properly supports your neck

Medications can also be a part of your treatment plan. Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers such as ibuprofen or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Acetaminophen may also be helpful.

Performing cervicalgia exercises under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist or another medical professional can also help relieve neck pain. You will work on building your strength and increasing your range of motion, and you may be given home exercises to practice.

Alternative therapies — such as acupuncture, yoga, or massage — may also help relieve cervicalgia. A 2017 review of a randomized controlled trial suggested that tai chi and conventional neck exercises can effectively treat neck pain.

Some people with serious conditions, such as severe spinal cord compression, may need surgery.

What is the outlook for people with cervicalgia?

The outlook for people with cervicalgia depends on the cause. Neck pain resulting from minor injuries may go away on its own or with OTC medications. Cervicalgia can also be a chronic condition in which you may experience pain intermittently or continuously.

It is important to contact your doctor for cervicalgia to diagnose the cause and start any necessary treatment. This can reduce your chance of experiencing long-term pain.

Can you prevent cervicalgia?

There are a few ways to prevent cervicalgia, including the following.

  • Use a pillow that supports your neck, and try to sleep on your back to support your spine.
  • Practice good posture when sitting or standing. Make sure your computer screen is at the level of your eyes so that you are not tilting your head down. Also, using a headset can prevent you from holding your neck at an angle when talking on the phone.
  • Exercise regularly and stretch your neck throughout the day.
  • Take frequent breaks from sitting.

There are some circumstances when it is necessary to contact your healthcare professional or get emergency care for cervicalgia. These situations can include:

  • severe neck pain after an accident or injury
  • pain that travels down to the arms or legs
  • pain that causes numbness, tingling, or weakness
  • Difficulty using your hands and fingers or holding onto objects
  • pain that does not go away
  • neck pain that causes headaches

Frequently asked questions

These are a few other commonly asked questions about cervicalgia. Lauren Jarmusz, PT, DPT, OCS, has reviewed the answers.

Can a pinched nerve cause cervicalgia?

A pinched nerve can cause cervicalgia along with other symptoms, such as pain in the shoulders or arms and tingling in your fingers or hands. This condition is known as cervical radiculopathy.

Can neck problems make you dizzy?

Neck injuries can cause both cervicalgia and dizziness. When these symptoms occur together, it is called cervicogenic dizziness.

Cervicalgia, or neck pain, is a common condition. It often results from sudden injuries or long-term wear and tear, though more serious conditions — such as meningitis — can also cause neck pain. In addition to pain, some people may experience dizziness, headaches, or tingling.

Doctors typically diagnose cervicalgia by assessing your medical history and performing a physical examination, though in some cases, additional tests may be necessary. Treating cervicalgia usually involves home remedies, but some people can benefit from physical therapy and medications. In serious cases, doctors may recommend surgery.

Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing cervicalgia. They can determine the cause and develop a treatment plan.


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