Symptoms and Diagnosis of Neck Pain

Common Symptoms, Exams and Tests to Diagnose Neck Pain


Common neck pain symptoms include:

  • burning pain
  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • fever
  • headache
  • neck soreness on one or both sides
  • numbness or weakness in your arm or hand
  • stiffness
  • tingling sensations

Seek immediate medical care if your pain or other symptoms persist for more than a few days or if you've recently had a head or neck injury, and you have neck pain with any of the following emergency symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing, swallowing, or talking
  • Numbness, weakness, and/or tingling
  • Severe tenderness with neck movement
  • Very high fever

You should also seek medical care if an injury causes neck pain that radiates down the arms and legs.

If you have neck pain but have not been injured, seek medical care if your neck pain is:

  • Continuous and persistent
  • Severe
  • Accompanied by pain that radiates down the arms or legs
  • Accompanied by headaches, tingling, numbness or weakness

Just because you have neck pain doesn't mean it's serious. But watch your symptoms, and if something doesn't seem right, call your doctor immediately.

Exams and Tests to Diagnose Neck Pain

Diagnosing neck paininvolves an array of exams and tests to make an accurate diagnosis. Acute (short-term) neck pain isn't always serious, especially if it's caused by a minor muscle strain or sprain, but chronic (ongoing) painis typically something more serious. If you have ongoing neck pain, make an appointment with your doctor immediately, especially if your pain is accompanied by other symptoms.

Your doctor can figure out the exact cause of your neck pain and will develop a treatment plan to help you manage it.

At your appointment, your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and perform some basic exams and tests to help him or her diagnose the cause of your neck pain.

He or she will ask you some questions, including:

  • When did your neck pain start?
  • Have you recently done any activities that could have caused your neck pain?
  • What does your pain feel like? Does it radiate down your arm?
  • Have you tried any home remedies to treat your neck pain?

Answering these questions as precisely as you can will help your doctor make an accurate diagnosis.

He or she will perform an exam to help diagnose the source of your pain.

Your doctor will observe your posture and physical condition and note any movement that causes you pain. Your doctor may also note the alignment of your spine and its curvature. He or she may test your muscle strength and reflexes, and see whether your neck pain travels to other parts of your body or if it causes other symptoms, such as tingling or numbness.

Your doctor may also want you to undergo imaging tests. An x-ray, CT scan, or MRI may be required to help identify the source of your neck pain.

Other Tests for Neck Pain

Other tests your doctor may suggest:

  • Bone scan:For a bone scan, a small amount of radioactive material is injected into a blood vessel and absorbed by bone. Areas with more radioactive material—called "hot spots"—show abnormalities (such as inflammation). This test is useful because it can identify spine conditions, such as spinal osteoarthritis (spondylosis).
  • Discogram:Using a safe dye that's injected into one of your discs, a discogram can verify whether your discs are the cause of your pain.
  • Electromyograph:This test measures how quickly your nerves respond.
  • Myelogram:A myelogram uses a special dye to detect whether you have a spinal cord or spinal canal disorder. You'll also have an x-ray or CT scan to see if anything is pressing on your nerves.

Diagnosing neck pain can be tricky, but with the proper exams and tests, your doctor can narrow down the cause of your pain to make an accurate diagnosis. Once your doctor has identified the cause of your neck pain, he or she can develop a treatment plan for you.

Updated on: 11/19/15
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