Countless conditions are capable of causing neck pain and/or stiffness. Common causes are typically suspected first, such as muscle strains or a spinal joint problem. However, once the usual suspects have been ruled out, other possibilities must be considered.
Numerous conditions that are rare—or not commonly associated with neck problems—can cause neck pain and other neck-related symptoms. Some examples include the following:
- Fibromyalgia is a condition that involves long-lasting fatigue and pain in all four quadrants of the body (upper left, upper right, lower left, and lower right), but the neck and shoulders are among the most commonly affected areas.
- Thoracic outlet syndrome occurs when the space between the first rib and collarbone becomes too narrowed for the nerves and/or blood vessels to pass through unimpeded. Neck pain and stiffness can be among the symptoms.
- Lyme disease is typically transmitted to humans via tick bite. Symptoms can vary widely and usually start with a large rash at the bite site that may or may not be noticed. Over time, a stiff and painful neck may develop.
- Eagle syndrome typically involves an elongation of the skull’s pointy bone beneath the ear, called the styloid process. The elongated bone may push against a nerve or blood vessel and cause severe pain in the face, throat, and/or neck.
- Crowned dens syndrome occurs when crystal deposits form on the ligament surrounding the dens—the bone upon which the head swivels. This condition can cause severe pain in the base of the skull and neck, as well as reduced head mobility.
Read more: Fibromyalgia Overview
Many other little-known causes of neck pain exist, and some of them can be similar to the conditions discussed in this article.
When Unexplained Neck Pain Requires a Doctor Visit
Sometimes people are not sure whether to visit a doctor for a mysterious pain in the neck, especially when neck pain typically goes away within a few days or weeks. However, neck pain accompanied by one or more of the following should always be examined by a doctor immediately:
- Fever or chills
- Nausea or vomiting
- Pain that radiates down into the arm
- Pins-and-needles tingling or numbness in the arm or hand
- Clumsiness with hands, such as dropping items or trouble buttoning a shirt
- Increased difficulty with walking or bowel or bladder control
- Fatigue or brain fog—trouble with memory or thinking—that persists
- Pain that does not improve after a few days and continues to disrupt daily activities, such as dressing, driving, and/or sleep
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Especially when accompanied by neck pain, any of these symptoms could potentially signal a serious medical problem. While it could still turn out to not be serious, seeing a doctor for an evaluation could help get treatment early when it is more effective.