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  • Writer's pictureNashville PT

Common Causes of Neck Pain

woman with neck pain holding her neck and shoulders

Oh, the neck—our flexible and vital support system that allows us to turn, tilt, and nod. But what happens when it rebels and causes pain? Neck pain can be a real headache, affecting our daily activities and overall well-being. In this blog post, we'll explore the common causes of neck pain, shed light on potential triggers, and highlight how physical therapy can help alleviate discomfort and restore neck mobility. Let's dive in and unlock the secrets to a pain-free neck!

neck anatomy showing bones, muscles, nerves

Neck Anatomy

To understand the common causes of neck pain, it's helpful to have a basic understanding of the anatomy of this vital part of our body. The neck, also known as the cervical spine, is a remarkable structure that provides support, flexibility, and protection to the delicate spinal cord. It consists of seven small vertebrae, numbered C1 to C7, stacked on top of each other like building blocks.

Between each vertebra, there are intervertebral discs made of cartilage that act as cushions, absorbing shock and allowing smooth movement of the spine. These discs also help maintain the space between the vertebrae, which is essential for the passage of nerves and blood vessels.

The neck is home to various important structures, including muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Muscles in the neck provide stability and enable movement, allowing us to turn our heads and tilt them in different directions. Ligaments connect the vertebrae together, providing additional support and preventing excessive movement. Tendons connect the muscles to the bones, facilitating coordinated movements of the neck.

In the front of the neck, you'll find the trachea (windpipe) and the esophagus (food pipe), which play crucial roles in respiration and digestion. Additionally, the neck houses important blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to the brain.

Protecting and housing the spinal cord, which is a bundle of nerves, the neck plays a vital role in transmitting messages between the brain and the rest of the body. Nerves branch out from the spinal cord through small openings between the vertebrae, forming a network that reaches various parts of the body, including the arms, shoulders, and head.

Causes of Neck Pain

1. Poor Posture

Picture this: hunching over your desk, shoulders slouched, and head forward. Sound familiar? Poor posture is a leading cause of neck pain in our modern, tech-driven world. Spending hours in a slouched position places excessive strain on the neck muscles and joints, leading to stiffness, discomfort, and even headaches. Incorporating ergonomic adjustments, practicing good posture, and seeking guidance from a physical therapist can help restore proper alignment and relieve neck pain caused by poor posture.

2. Muscle Strain and Tension

Life's daily grind can put stress on our neck muscles, leading to strain and tension. Activities like prolonged computer use, heavy lifting, or even sleeping in an awkward position can result in muscle imbalances and trigger neck pain. Physical therapy can address muscle imbalances through targeted exercises, stretching, and hands-on techniques, helping to alleviate tension, restore muscle balance, and reduce pain.

3. Cervical Disc Degeneration

As we age, our intervertebral discs in the cervical spine may experience normal, age related wear and tear, leading to degeneration. This can cause neck pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion. Physical therapy interventions, such as manual therapy and therapeutic exercises, can help improve joint mobility, strengthen surrounding muscles, and minimize discomfort associated with cervical disc degeneration.

4. Whiplash Injuries

Whiplash, often associated with car accidents or sports injuries, occurs when the neck is forced into sudden, rapid movements. This can strain the neck muscles, ligaments, and discs, resulting in pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility. Physical therapy plays a crucial role in the rehabilitation of whiplash injuries, offering specialized treatments like gentle exercises, manual therapy, and modalities to promote healing, restore function, and reduce pain.

5. Stress and Tension

Did you know that stress can manifest as physical symptoms, including neck pain? High-stress levels can cause muscle tension, leading to neck discomfort and stiffness. Physical therapy can provide relaxation techniques, stress management strategies, and therapeutic exercises to help alleviate muscle tension and improve overall well-being.

Neck pain can disrupt our lives, but it doesn't have to be a constant companion. Understanding the common causes of neck pain, such as poor posture, muscle strain, disc degeneration, whiplash injuries, and stress, empowers us to take control of our well-being. Seeking the expertise of a physical therapist is a smart move towards finding relief. They will assess your condition, develop a personalized treatment plan, and guide you through exercises, manual therapy, and self-care techniques to alleviate neck pain, restore mobility, and enhance your quality of life.

Don't let neck pain hold you back—reach out to one of our qualified physical therapists and embark on your journey to a pain-free neck!


1. Childs JD, et al. A description of physical therapists' knowledge in managing musculoskeletal conditions. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2005;6:32.

2. Bono CM, et al. Neck pain: a state-of-the-art review. J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2009;17(3):157-166.

3. Haldeman S, Carroll L, Cassidy JD. Findings from the bone and joint decade 2000 to 2010 task force on neck pain and its associated disorders. J Occup Environ Med. 2010;52(4):424-427.

4. Gross AR, et al. Conservative management of mechanical neck disorders: a systematic review. J Rheumatol. 2007;34(5):1083-1102.

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