Most neck pain is due to muscle strain or soft tissue sprain (ligaments, tendons), but can also be caused by a sudden force like a whiplash. These types of neck pain often improve with time and non-surgical care such as medication. There are many conditions that can cause chronic neck pain and can involve the muscles, nerves, bones (vertebrae), and the discs between the bones.
Pain that radiates down the arm, and possibly into the hands and fingers, is frequently caused by a cervical herniated disc or foraminal stenosis pinching a nerve in the neck.
Neck pain that develops slowly (often over a number of years) and tends to occur during or after certain activities or neck positions is frequently caused by cervical foraminal stenosis. Usually, impingement of one nerve root on one side of the spine causes most of the symptoms.
Neck pain characterized by a low level of chronic pain that sometimes “flares” and gets worse, is made worse by certain positions or activities, and may be accompanied by arm pain may indicate symptomatic cervical disc degeneration. Often called “gray hair of the spine,” symptoms from this are less common and often short-lived. However, if your neck pain is so severe that you can’t touch your chin to your chest despite a few days of self-care, seek immediate medical attention.