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What are the symptoms of neck problems?

Back to Neck pain

The most common symptoms people with neck problems experience are:

Pain and stiffness

You may feel pain in the middle or on either side of you neck, but it may also extend to the shoulder and shoulder blade, or to the upper chest. 

If you have tension headaches, the pain often travels to the back of your head, and sometimes behind your eye or even into your ear.

It may be painful to move and your muscles may feel tight, especially if you've been sitting in one position for a long time. You may notice your neck doesn't turn as far as it normally does, for example when you try to look over your shoulder while reversing the car.

If your neck stiffness came on quickly, you are aged 50 or over. and you also have stiffness in both shoulders that isn't related to a recent injury, this can be a sign of a condition called polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) – an inflammatory condition affecting the muscles. You should see your doctor as soon as possible as this condition needs to be treated promptly.

Numbness or tingling

If a nerve root is being pinched you may have numbness, tingling or pins and needles down your arm, sometimes right down to the fingers.

Clicking and grating noises

You may hear or feel clicking or grating as you move your head – this is called crepitus, and is caused by bony surfaces moving against each other or by ligaments moving over bone. Other joints often do this too but noises from your neck usually seem louder because they're happening closer to your ears. You may also find they're more noticeable at night. This is quite common and can sound alarming but it's not serious.

Dizziness and blackouts   

If you feel dizzy when looking up or turning your head, this may be caused by the vertebral arteries being pinched. This sometimes happens as a result of changes in the bones of the spine. Pinching of these arteries can sometimes cause blackouts as the blood flow is temporarily reduced. However, this kind of dizziness can have other causes (for example, problems in the ear) so it's best to see your doctor if the problem continues.

Muscle spasms

Sometimes if you have neck pain you may also have muscle spasms that turn your head to one side. This is called torticollis, cervical dystonia or acute wry neck. This isn't very common but is unpleasant. The problem usually only lasts a few hours or days, but rarely may continue for several weeks.

Other symptoms

If you have long-lasting neck pain, and especially if your sleep is disturbed, then you may feel extremely tired and, not surprisingly, rather down or low in mood. You should speak to your doctor, family and friends if neck pain is getting you down.

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