The 5 Most Common Causes of Neck Pain

Your neck allows you to hold up your 10-pound head, check for oncoming traffic, and bend down to check your texts, multitasking all day long. To do that, it relies on a complex system of muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, and bones. Although your neck is amazingly capable and resilient, it does have its limits. If you overuse it or misuse it, it will protest in pain.

That’s where we come in. Dinash Yanamadula, MD, and our team here at Princeton Pain & Spine Institute in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, specializes in treating your neck issues. The most common causes of neck pain are:

  1. Worn-out joints
  2. Injuries
  3. Diseases
  4. Pinched nerves
  5. Muscle strains

But how these conditions are treated depends on how they happened and how long you’ve been suffering from them. Neck pain generally falls into one of two categories: acute and chronic.

Acute neck pain

Acute neck pain is the kind that has a known and usually sudden cause, and it typically lasts less than four weeks. The most common causes of acute neck pain are:

Sleeping in the wrong position

Ideally, your head and neck should be well-supported throughout the night in a way that keeps your spine aligned. If your pillow is too big or too small, too hard or too soft, it could position your neck at an angle that strains your neck muscles.

Improper posture

Most people relate poor posture and back pain, but sitting or standing in the wrong position can also result in neck pain. Modern technology has increased our tendency to hunch and slouch as we constantly look down at our phones, tablets, and laptops. And if your desktop computer and chair aren’t positioned to keep your body upright and your eyesight level, your neck can suffer. We call this condition tech neck.

Accidents, injuries, and trauma

Car accidents are notorious for causing whiplash, a violent snapping of your neck when your vehicle crashes and comes to a sudden halt. The action overextends your ligaments, muscles, and tendons and weakens them to the point where they can no longer function properly until they heal.

Repetitive stress injuries

Repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) can occur in any area of your body where you perform the same movement over and over again. The best known RSI is carpal tunnel syndrome, which compresses the long nerve in the forearm and wrist, but you can easily suffer from RSI in your neck, too. 

Swimmers often get it because of the repetitive way they move their head with each stroke to take in air. Any job or hobby that has you turning or twisting your neck again and again can put you at risk.

Chronic neck pain

If your neck pain has been with you for several months and you can’t find a solution, you may have crossed over into the chronic category. Unlike acute neck pain, chronic neck pain is usually caused by underlying conditions that have been developing over time. The most common causes are:

Degenerative disc disease

As you age, your body naturally gives way to years of use. Some of the body parts that tend to suffer most with age are the discs in your spine. As they lose hydration, they deteriorate and fail to protect your vertebrae. The result can be a compressed nerve, a herniated disc, or bones rubbing on bones in your facet joints.

Herniated disc

If degenerative disc disease causes a herniated disc, this means that the fibrous outer layer of your disc has torn, and the inner gel-like center has leaked out. This causes inflammation in the area and considerable pain.


Also called the wear-and-tear disease, osteoarthritis can strike any joint in your body. It happens when the cartilage in your joints — the thick, slippery band of tissue that keeps your bones from having direct contact with one another — deteriorates. In your neck, the condition causes stiffness, pain, and reduced range of motion.

Other causes of neck pain

If you feel mild stiffness and a dull ache in your neck, it could very well be caused by tension, emotional stress, or a temporary strain. Over-the-counter pain medications and anti-inflammatory drugs are often very helpful, as are hot and cold therapies and gentle stretches.

More serious neck conditions may be the result of:

To know for sure exactly what’s causing your neck pain, it’s best to come in and see Dr. Yanamadula for a thorough evaluation. Our team offers expert physical therapy techniques to relieve your pain and help resolve the underlying conditions.

Whether you’ve had neck pain for a few days, a few months, or longer, Dr. Yanamadula can help you understand exactly what’s causing it and chart the best course for overcoming it. To learn more, book an appointment online or over the phone with Princeton Pain & Spine Institute today.

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