Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust: Healthcare from the heart of your community

Neck pain

Neck pain is common in people of all ages and is usually caused by how we use our necks.

Suffering from neck pain can have a negative impact on your everyday routine but with the right guidance and support, most people with neck pain can recover without the need for medical help.

Here, you'll find information, advice and resources from our specialist clinicians in the Community Spinal Service to help you get back to health.

What causes neck pain?

As more and more people spend their working day at a computer or sat in an office, the neck and shoulder muscles can become stiff or overused.

Other factors such as stress and tiredness can contribute to ongoing neck pain, as can osteoarthritis (age-related wear and tear) in the neck.

This can, in turn, cause not only muscular pain from the neck into the shoulder, but also some stiffness in moving the neck.

An irritated nerve in your neck can cause some arm pain going down into the hand and may be accompanied by pins and needles and numbness. If you find that your arm is weak (you are dropping objects or struggling to grip), you should see your doctor.

On rare occasions, the central nerves or spinal cord in your neck may be compromised, making it difficult for you to balance well when walking. If any of these symptoms occur, you should see your doctor immediately:

  • Difficulty with walking due to heavy, weak or clumsy legs, causing an unsteady gait or loss of balance.

  • Loss of or decreased sensation around the genitals/buttock area.

  • Inability to hold on to your urine or bowels.

  • Inability to pass urine or get an erection.

Dealing with neck pain

When you have neck pain it is crucial for you to keep moving. Movement is something that you can do to help your neck get better.

Part of this process allows time for the body's natural healing to occur and this will be much better if you continue to move, even if this causes some discomfort. You may need some painkillers such as ibuprofen and/or paracetamol to help with this movement.

If you find that your neck pain is worse after being at work, you may require an assessment of your workstation which your employer should be able to organise.

These simple steps can help you set your desk up correctly to avoid an episode of neck pain:

  • Try to have your computer screen at eye level in front of you and your chair directly facing it, to avoid unnecessary twisting.

  • Have your mouse and keyboard within easy reaching distance so that you don't have to stretch to use them.

  • Take regular breaks and get up and walk around the office regularly, to stretch out your muscles and give your back a rest.

  • Make the effort to sit with a good posture to prevent straining your muscles.

How we can help

If your neck pain doesn’t settle you may need some help from a local physiotherapist.

We have physiotherapists based at several locations across Berkshire who are able to assess and recommend a management plan personal to you.

Physiotherapists treat and support people with neck pain using a variety of methods.

Firstly, they will assess how your neck is working, how the pain is affecting your life, and the level of fitness you need for your usual activities. They will ask lots of questions, watch how you move and feel your neck.

Physiotherapy may involve manual treatments such as manipulation and massage and can provide you with advice on how to manage the pain, help yourself to recover and how to stop the pain from coming back. A physiotherapist can also provide you with an exercise programme to suit your health, ability and fitness levels.

If your GP feels it is appropriate they can refer you the Community Spinal Service for assessment with an extended scope physiotherapist who specialises in spines. They will organise further investigations where necessary and arrange any relevant treatment.

Take a test to see if you need extra support

Take this one-minute test to identify how likely your pain is to persist over the next year and whether you may need some extra support. It has been developed by a team of experts from Keele University and has been shown to be very useful for people with pain and health professionals working with them.

It will also be useful to retake the test after you have learned more key facts about pain, either from this website or from a healthcare professional, to re-assess in time whether your neck problem is improving.

Managing your pain

How you manage your pain will depend on how long you've had it.

New pain that you have not had for long, typically less than three months, is what we call ‘acute pain’ and usually responds to traditional painkillers.

Pain that has lasted for a longer period we call ‘chronic pain’ and is managed in a different way.

The links below give more information on treatments.

Heat and ice treatment

Basic pain relief

Medication for chronic pain

Neuropathic pain

Self help medication for acute pain