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Neck pain can be caused by injury, stress or by other health problems, including some that may have serious consequences. Follow this chart if you have been suffering from pain, stiffness, soreness or cramps in the neck.

SYMPTOMS DIAGNOSIS SELF-CARE
Begin Here

1. Have you been involved in an accident that involved your neck?


No

Go to Question 4.*

Yes

2. Are you having pain or numbness down your shoulder, arms or legs?


Yes

This may be MUSCLE SPASM or a BURNER, but it also may be an injury to the SPINAL CORD.

URGENT
See your doctor or go to the emergency room right away. If your doctor diagnoses your problem as muscle spasm or a burner, use over-the counter medicine, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to relieve pain, and apply heat to the sore area, as recommended by the doctor.

No

3. Has pain come on slowly over a few hours after the accident?


Yes

MUSCLE ACHES and SPASMS usually develop minutes to hours after an injury.

Use anti-inflammatory medicines, such as ibuprofen and aspirin, to relieve pain and discomfort, and apply heat to the sore area. See your doctor if your pain gets worse or lasts for several days without getting better.

No

*4. Do you have a fever, stiff neck, vomiting, and does light hurt your eyes?


Yes

Your symptoms may be from a simple viral illness or from MENINGITIS, a more serious infection around the brain.

EMERGENCY
See your doctor or go to the emergency room right away.

No

5. Do you have throbbing pain or numbness down your shoulder or into your arm?


Yes

You may have a HERNIATED CERVICAL DISK, when part of the center portion of the spine presses against a nerve. It may also be from MUSCLE SPASM.

See your doctor. Use over-the-counter medicine, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to relieve pain, and apply heat to the sore area. If your symptoms came on suddenly, see your doctor right away.

No

6. Do you have a stiff neck or are you having trouble moving your neck without pain?


Yes

Your pain is probably from MUSCLE SPASM, but also may be from RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS, an inflammatory joint disease, or FIBROMYALGIA, a chronic condition affecting muscles and tendons.

Use anti-inflammatory medicines, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, and apply heat to the sore area. See your doctor if the pain or stiffness gets worse or doesn't get better.

No

7. Did you have a whiplash-type injury in the past, or do you have pain and/or stiffness every day in your neck, hands, knees, hips or other joints?


Yes

Your pain may be from DEGENERATIVE CERVICAL ARTHRITIS, a disorder that affects the bones and cartilage in the neck.

Use anti-inflammatory medicines, such as ibuprofen or aspirin. See your doctor if the pain or stiffness gets worse or doesn't get better.

No

For more information, please talk to your doctor. If you think the problem is serious, call your doctor right away.

This tool has been reviewed by doctors and is for general educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for medical advice. The information in this tool should not be relied upon to make decisions about your health. Always consult your family doctor with questions about your individual condition(s) and/or circumstances. Source: American Academy of Family Physicians. Family Health & Medical Guide. Dallas: Word Publishing; 1996.

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