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Getting to Know Everything About Sore Neck

Get Help With Sore Neck

A sore neck is one of the more common musculoskeletal disorders with a global prevalence ranging between 16–75% (1). The causes of a sore neck are very complex due to the various anatomical structures in the neck area. Some of which are much more common than others. The cause helps determines the treatment plan. 

So, if you have a sore neck, read on. In this post, we’ll discuss the causes, diagnostic procedures, and treatments for a sore neck including some home remedies.

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Why Your Neck Is Sore

There are several potential causes of a sore neck, including:

  • Poor posture: Sitting or standing with poor posture for extended periods can strain the neck muscles and cause your neck to become sore. Unfortunately most of us have poor posture due to sitting in front of computers and Facetime with friends and family (don’t want to show that double chin!).
  • Muscle strain or sprain: Overuse, repetitive movements, sleeping in an awkward position, or abrupt neck movements can cause the muscles in the neck to become strained or sprained, resulting in pain.
  • Whiplash: A sudden impact or injury, such as from a car accident, can cause the neck to whip back and forth, resulting in whiplash and pain.
  • Herniated or bulging discs: The discs in the spine can become damaged or bulge out of place, compressing the nerves and causing pain in the neck, shoulders, or even down the arm into the hand.
  • Osteoarthritis: This condition causes the cartilage in the facet joints to break down, leading to pain and stiffness in the neck.
  • Pinched nerves: A pinched nerve in the neck can cause pain, numbness, or weakness in the arms, hands, or fingers.
  • Infections: Infections such as meningitis, influenza, or mononucleosis can cause neck pain.
  • Tumors: While rare, a tumor in the neck can cause pain or discomfort.
  • Stress: Emotional or psychological stress can cause muscle tension in the neck and shoulders, leading to pain and stiffness.
  • Fibromyalgia: This condition causes widespread pain and tenderness throughout the body, including in the neck.

What Does It Feel Like To Have A Sore Neck

The symptoms of a sore neck can vary depending on the underlying cause of the pain, but common symptoms may include:

  • Pain or discomfort in the neck ranging from a dull ache to a sharp pain, or throbbing sensation.
  • Stiffness when turning the head or looking up or down.
  • Headaches, especially at the base of the skull or wrapping around the top of the head towards the eyes.
  • Tingling or numbness in the neck, shoulders, arms, or hands.
  • Weakness in the arms, hands, or fingers.
  • Clicking or popping sounds when moving their neck.
  • Swelling or tenderness in the affected area.

Possible Cervical Conditions Causing A Sore Neck

A sore neck may just be one of the symptoms of an underlying disorder of the cervical spine, such as:

Cervical Herniated Disc

A cervical herniated disc can cause a sore neck by compressing the nerves in the neck. The cervical spine is made up of seven vertebrae, and between each vertebra is a cushion-like disc that acts as a shock absorber and stabilizer for the spine.

The soft material inside the disc can rupture or bulge out of place. This is known as a herniated disc. It can compress nerves in the neck, causing pain, tingling, weakness or numbness in the neck, shoulders, arms, or hands.

Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease

Cervical degenerative disc disease is a condition that can cause a sore neck by causing the discs in the cervical spine to break down, which can result in instability of the cervical spine, development of osteophytes (bone spurs), arthritis in the facet joints, and other findings.

As we age, the spinal discs begin to degenerate. They lose water content and become less flexible. This can cause the discs to compress or even herniate, narrowing the disc space. This can cause neck pain, and the degenerated discs can cause the vertebrae to rub against each other, causing bone spurs to form, further irritating the nerves in the neck.

As we age, the likelihood of finding degenerative disc disease in the cervical spine continues to go up, even in those without any history of neck issues.

Cervical Osteoarthritis

Cervical osteoarthritis, also known as cervical spondylosis, can manifest as a sore neck by causing degeneration and inflammation in the joints and discs of the cervical spine.

As the cartilage in the cervical spine wears down, the joints and discs get damaged and may even start to rub against each other. This causes bone spurs to develop, which irritate the surrounding tissues and nerves in the neck. The inflammation and swelling can cause pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion in the neck. Instability in the cervical spine can further exacerbate osteoarthritis and its associated symptoms.

Who Is At Risk?

A sore neck is a common condition that can affect people of all ages, but there are certain factors that can increase the risk of developing neck pain. These risk factors include:

  • Poor posture: Poor posture, such as hunching over a computer or cell phone for extended periods of time, can strain the neck muscles and lead to pain and stiffness. This can also alter the natural backwards curve (lordosis) in the cervical spine.
  • Age: As we age, the neck muscles and discs in the spine can degenerate, increasing the risk of developing neck pain.
  • Injuries: Injuries, such as whiplash from a car accident, can cause neck pain.
  • Repetitive motion: Repeatedly performing the same motion, such as lifting heavy objects, can strain the neck muscles and lead to pain.
  • Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, or spinal stenosis, can increase the risk of developing neck pain.
  • Stress: Emotional and psychological stress can cause muscle tension in the neck and shoulders, leading to pain and stiffness.
  • Obesity: Being overweight or obese can put additional strain on the neck muscles and increase the risk of developing neck pain.

When To See A Doctor

You should consider seeing a doctor for a sore neck if:

  • Your neck pain is severe or getting worse despite home remedies or a short course of over-the-counter pain medications.
  • You have trouble moving your neck or if your neck feels stiff or locked in one position.
  • You have other symptoms such as fever, headache, numbness, tingling, or progressive weakness in your arms or legs.
  • You have a history of cancer or other medical conditions like osteoporosis that could affect your spine or neck.
  • You have had a recent injury such as a car accident or a fall, and you are experiencing neck pain.

How Medical Professionals Diagnose The Root Cause

Medical professionals use a variety of methods to diagnose the cause of a sore neck, including:

  • Physical examination: The doctor will examine your neck for signs of inflammation, tenderness, stiffness, and limited range of motion. They may also check for any swelling that could indicate an underlying condition.
  • Medical history: The doctor will ask about your medical history, including any past injuries or medical conditions that could be contributing to your sore neck.
  • Imaging tests: Imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scans, or MRI scans can identify any structural problems in the neck, such as herniated discs or spinal stenosis, as well as presence of masses.
  • Blood tests: Blood tests can identify any underlying medical conditions that could contribute to your symptoms, such as infections or autoimmune diseases.
  • Electromyography (EMG): EMG can identify any nerve damage or muscle weakness that could be contributing to your sore neck.

Your Medical Treatment Options

The treatment for a sore neck varies and depends on the cause of the neck pain. Here are some treatment options to relieve neck soreness.

Home Remedies

Ice and heat therapy, rest, over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications, and neck stretches can all help to relieve a sore neck, but they work in slightly different ways.

  • Ice therapy involves applying a cold compress or ice pack to the affected area. This reduces inflammation and swelling, often the cause of a sore neck. Ice therapy can also numb the area, which can provide temporary pain relief.
  • Heat therapy involves applying a warm compress or heat pack to the affected area. This increases blood flow and relaxes tense muscles, which can also help to relieve pain.
  • Rest is necessary to heal and recover. If you have a sore neck, it’s important to avoid activities that may exacerbate the pain, such as heavy lifting or twisting your neck.
  • Neck stretches improve the flexibility of the neck muscles. When done correctly, neck stretches can help to alleviate soreness and stiffness in the neck.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and diclofenac are commonly used to relieve pain and inflammation in the neck. These are available as over-the-counter formulations. Chronic use of these is not recommended as they have increased heart, kidney, and GI system risks associated.

Prescription Analgesic Medications

There are several prescription analgesic medications that can be used to relieve sore neck pain. The type of medication depends on factors such as severity of the pain, the underlying cause, age, and medical history. 

Here are some common prescription analgesics used for sore neck pain:

  • Opioids: Opioids such as oxycodone and hydrocodone may be prescribed for severe neck pain that does not respond to other treatments. However, they have significant potential for addiction and other side effects. So opioids are typically only used for brief periods under close medical supervision.
  • Muscle relaxants: Muscle relaxants such as cyclobenzaprine and methocarbamol may be prescribed to relieve muscle spasms and tension in the neck.
  • Antidepressants: Antidepressants such as amitriptyline and duloxetine may be prescribed for chronic neck pain associated with depression or anxiety.
  • Topical analgesics: Topical analgesics such as lidocaine patches or creams containing capsaicin can relieve pain in the neck.


Physical therapy, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), traction, and short-term immobilization can all be effective in relieving sore neck pain. 

Here’s how each treatment can help:

  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy for sore neck pain typically involves exercises to strengthen and stretch the muscles in the neck and shoulders. It improves the range of motion, reduces stiffness, and alleviates pain.
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS): TENS is a therapy where electrodes are placed on the skin and a low-voltage electrical current stimulates the nerves. This reduces pain and muscle tension in the neck.
  • Traction: Traction involves the use of a device to gently stretch the neck and relieve pressure on the spinal discs and nerve roots. It improves the range of motion and decreases pain.
  • Short-term immobilization: Short-term immobilization of the neck may be recommended to allow the muscles to rest and heal. You can wear a soft cervical collar or brace for a few days.

Surgical Procedures

Surgical procedures for a sore neck are only considered after conservative treatments like physical therapy, or medications, have failed to relieve pain. 

Surgery is an option if the pain is caused by a structural issue that cannot be treated by other methods. Surgical procedures for a sore neck are typically only considered as a last resort when other treatments have failed as they carry risks and require a significant recovery period. 

Here are some common interventional and surgical procedures for a sore neck:

  • Steroid injections: Steroid injections are anti-inflammatory medications injected directly into the affected area to reduce inflammation and pain. They are effective in treating sore neck pain caused by herniated discs, spinal stenosis, or arthritis. They are often used in conjunction with other treatments such as physical therapy or medications. These are NOT recommended, as high-dose corticosteroids can further damage tissue such as cartilage and tendons. 
  • Orthobiologic treatments: Blood platelets and bone marrow can be concentrated and injected under precise x-ray and ultrasound directly to tissues that need additional healing. The doctors at the Centeno-Schultz Clinic are experts in diagnosing and treating such conditions using these powerful healing cells.
  • Cervical discectomy and fusion: This procedure involves removing a damaged or herniated disc in the neck and fusing the adjacent vertebrae together with a bone graft to stabilize the spine. 
  • Cervical artificial disc replacement: In this procedure, the damaged disc is replaced with an artificial disc to maintain the motion of the spine.
  • Anterior cervical corpectomy and fusion: Here, the damaged vertebrae and the adjacent discs are removed and fused with the remaining vertebrae together with a bone graft.
  • Posterior cervical laminectomy: This procedure involves removing part of the vertebrae to relieve pressure on the spinal cord.
  • Posterior cervical fusion: In posterior cervical fusion, the vertebrae in the neck are fused to stabilize the spine.

Surgical methods such as fusion, discectomy, and laminectomy should be reserved as a LAST resort once all other more conservative options have been exhausted.

Alternative Medicine

There are several alternative medicine options that may be effective in relieving sore neck pain. However, it’s important to note that these remedies should not replace traditional medical treatment. They are encouraged during the first few days of experiencing a sore neck. Here are some alternative medicine options to try for sore neck pain:

  • Acupuncture: This traditional Chinese medicine technique involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body to relieve pain. Studies show that acupuncture is effective in relieving neck soreness in the short term (2). 
  • Massage therapy: Massage can help to relax tense muscles and improve circulation in the neck.
  • Chiropractic care: Chiropractors use spinal manipulation to realign the vertebrae and alleviate neck pain.
  • Herbal remedies: Some herbs such as chamomile, valerian root, and lavender can help to reduce inflammation and ease pain. There are no studies analyzing their specific efficacy when it comes to a sore neck. 
  • Aromatherapy: Essential oils such as peppermint, eucalyptus, and lavender can be used to alleviate neck pain as they promote muscle relaxation when applied topically or used in a diffuser.

How To Prevent Sore Neck At Home

There are several ways to prevent a sore neck. Here are some of them:

  • Correct your posture: Maintain a good posture while working, sitting, and standing to prevent neck pain. Draw back your shoulders and align your head with your spine. Pay attention to your sleeping position: Ensure your pillow supports your neck and is not too high or too low. The best position for your neck when you sleep is a neutral position.
  • Stretch your neck and do light aerobic exercises: If you spend long periods of time in one position at work, take regular breaks to stretch your neck and shoulders. Regular stretching exercises can prevent neck pain. Some good stretches for the neck include chin tucks, neck rotations, and side bends. Add neck exercises to strengthen your neck muscles and make them flexible.
  • Proper ergonomics at work: Make sure your desk and chair are ergonomically designed to support your neck and back. Ergonomics are key when in an office setting in front of a computer.

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Treat Your Neck Well And Keep It Strong

A sore neck has a wide range of causes. You can prevent it altogether by making lifestyle changes like losing weight and maintaining a proper posture throughout the day. An anti-inflammatory based diet can help with the body as a whole to mitigate chronic inflammation. Incorporating neck exercises into your exercise routine can also make your neck stronger. 

These small steps can go a long way in preventing a sore neck. If your neck is already sore, it’s important to find out why and get it treated right away.

Want to know more about why your neck is sore? Request an appointment and get diagnosed today.


  1. Genebra CVDS, Maciel NM, Bento TPF, Simeão SFAP, Vitta A. Prevalence and factors associated with neck pain: a population-based study. Braz J Phys Ther. 2017;21(4):274-280. doi:10.1016/j.bjpt.2017.05.005
  2. Fu LM, Li JT, Wu WS. Randomized controlled trials of acupuncture for neck pain: systematic review and meta-analysis. J Altern Complement Med. 2009;15(2):133-145. doi:10.1089/acm.2008.0135

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