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While neck pain affects approximately ten percent of the population at any given time, it’s rarely associated with any life-threatening conditions. Most neck pain will go away within a few weeks, with nearly 90 percent of individuals who have experienced neck pain reporting no lasting discomfort after two months. By developing a better understanding of neck pain, ranking behind back pain as the primary complaint of patients at doctor’s offices in the United States, you’ll know what to expect if you happen to experience sudden pain in the neck.

Who Experiences Neck Pain?

When it comes to neck pain, anybody of any age can experience some degree of neck pain. More than 14,000 neck-related injuries are treated at hospitals in the United States, according to estimates based on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. According to an analysis of physician records, the average age of patients reporting neck pain is 49. Women report neck pain more frequently than their male counterparts. Defensive ends tend to be more susceptible to sports-related neck pain.

Diagnosing Neck Pain

Testing to diagnose is fairly straightforward. Most instances of neck pain are diagnosed based on a patient’s medical history, a physical exam and a determination of what particular action or activity may have caused the pain. X-rays and MRIs are sometimes necessary to confirm conditions like arthritis of the neck (cervical spondylosis). If possible causes of neck pain like muscle strain and arthritis affecting joints are ruled out, the next step in the diagnostic process is to determine which part of the cervical spine is causing the discomfort. With advances in technology, exploratory surgery is rarely used to determine the location of neck pain.

Treating Neck Pain

Treatment for neck pain can range from a little rest for a few days to fusion surgery when worn discs are causing the pain. Once exclusive to the back, disc replacement surgery is now an alternative to traditional fusion surgery for neck pain sufferers. In addition to reduced recovery time, disc replacement allows patients to retain the same range of motion they had before surgery. Treatment options for neck pain can also include:

  • Massage therapy
  • Temporary mobilization (with cervical collars)
  • Over-the-counter medications
  • Prescription muscle relaxants
  • Counseling (for psychological issues like depression that may be causing neck pain)

Old-fashioned Remedies May Really Work

Research suggests that some old-fashioned remedies for neck pain are really effective. For instance, a scarf wrapped around the neck while sleeping keeps neck muscles warm and prevents constriction that sometimes results in a neck stiffness or pain when first waking up.

Neck pain can be physical (likely related to an issue with one or more of the seven cervical bones in the neck or adjacent muscles) or psychological in origin (with stress being the most common psychological cause of neck pain). While most people experiencing neck pain tend to self-treat by either getting some rest or restricting activities until the pain goes away, it’s important to see a doctor when neck discomfort either becomes progressively worse or lingers for more than a few months.