Neck Pain

The neck is comprised of seven cervical vertebrae. When neck pain occurs, it is probably due to a problem in the area of the following vertebrae:

  • Atlas, the first of two specialized vertebrae at the top of the neck. These bones cover the lower part of the brainstem, the medulla oblongata
  • Axis, the second of two specialized vertebrae at the top of the neck. The atlas and axis do not have discs between them like the other vertebrae and are shaped differently than the other bones of the spine.
  • Cervical vertebrae. These seven vertebrae are usually identified by number (C-1, C-2, etc.). They make up the neck.


Specific symptoms will depend on where along the neck the problem is and what its cause is. Pain is felt usually no matter which part of the neck has been affected. The pain is usually felt in the neck, shoulder and arms or causes other symptoms if the top two bones of the spine are affected.


Causes and Risk Factors for Neck Pain

Neck pain can be felt for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Aging
  • Disc degeneration
  • Disc herniation
  • Disease
  • Injury or trauma
  • Slippage in the alignment of the bones of the neck on top of each other
  • Stress causing muscular tension


A doctor will take the patient's medical history and do a physical examination. An initial diagnosis is usually based on the pain or other symptoms the patient is having. To confirm the diagnosis, it may be necessary to do magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).


Depending on the cause of the pain and how severe it is, treatment may range from a non-operative approach to surgery.

Treatment options include:

  • Chiropractic treatment
  • Conservative treatment with rest, drugs to reduce pain and swelling or braces
  • Interventional pain management
  • Discectomy, a surgical approach to treat damaged discs and relieve pressure on nerve roots or the spinal cord
  • Fusion, a surgical approach in which bones are attached to each other to create more stability
  • Artificial disc replacement