The neck (cervical spine) is a complex structure made up of seven bones called vertebrae. These vertebrae are separated from each other by discs which are stabilised by joints and ligaments and moved by muscles.

The neck supports the head and is a very mobile structure and because of this, it can be damaged easily. Injuries and postural problems are the most common causes of neck pain, however arthritis and degeneration of the cervical spine can also cause neck pain.

The most common types of neck pain and their signs & symptoms are outlined below:

Acute Nerve Root Pain

When a nerve coming from the spinal cord gets compressed by a structure in the neck.

What are the Signs & Symptoms?

  • Sudden onset of pain usually in the arm
  • With or without neck pain
  • May be associated with pins and needles, numbness or loss or strength/movement in the arm


Acceleration/deceleration injury – where the head is thrown forward or backward.

What are the Signs & Symptoms?

  • Little or no pain at time of injury, however this is variable
  • Gradual increase in intensity of pain in following 2-3 days
  • Pain in neck and sometimes radiating into head and shoulders/arms
  • May be a dull ache or sharp pain made worse with movement
  • Reduced range of motion of the neck

Wry Neck

Pain and tightness arising from one or more of the apophyseal joints (joints between each vertebral level) or intervertebral discs (located between each vertebral body).

What are the Signs & Symptoms?

  • Pain in neck and occasionally in the head and shoulders
  • Usually a sharp pain made worse with movement of the neck (Apophyseal wry neck)
  • Usually a dull ache made worse with movement of the neck (Discogenic wry neck)
  • Most often preventing full neck rotation to one side
  • Commonly unilateral pain

Tension Headache

The most common type of headache often related to pain and tension in the neck region. A disorder of the neck joints or the muscles that connect to the base of your skull may refer pain into the head.

What are the Signs & Symptoms?

  • Neck pain radiates from the back to the front of the head
  • Headache is worsened by neck movement or by holding your neck in one position for example; looking at your computer screen with your chin poked forward
  • Headache is eased with pressure at the base of the skull
  • May not always be relieved by medication

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