Acute neck pain

What is acute neck pain?

Acute neck pain is the medical term used for the intense neck pain which some individuals may experience.

Studies have shown that the many people will suffer with at least one significant episode of neck pain at some point in their adult life.

There can be many causes for acute neck pain. However, the intense pain, stiffness and locked feeling that individuals may experience is often the result of muscle spasm rather than being directly related to the extent of injury to a disc or surrounding tissues.

If you are experiencing any pins and needles or numbness in the face or arm, we would recommend that you seek medical assessment.

Common symptoms

Intense pain throughout the neck area.

The onset of pain is sometimes felt suddenly with neck movements such as looking up or rotating to look behind, or in the morning when getting out of bed. Initially, there may be a significant loss of movement when moving your neck to look behind or upwards.

Returning to normal activities and gentle exercises has been shown to improve these symptoms at a faster rate than keeping your neck still and resting.

How is acute neck pain diagnosed?

Acute neck pain can be reliably diagnosed by your doctor or physiotherapist by taking a history of your condition. In some circumstances it may be necessary to conduct a physical examination but this is usually not necessary in uncomplicated acute neck pain.

X-rays and scans are not routinely required and are generally unhelpful as it will not change the appropriate management plan.

How is acute neck pain treated

Acute phase management
Acute phase management is aimed at alleviating pain to allow rehabilitation to commence as early as possible following injury.

The following self-help videos explain some measures which should reduce pain and increase the movement you have in your neck and upper spine:

Heat treatment

Ongoing management

Specific exercises to relieve any stiffness in the neck & upper spine and maintain flexibility at the shoulders:

10 second holds to each side, 2x per day

3×10 repetitions 3-4x per week

20 slow movements up & down, 2x per day

Using painkillers when needed
Over-the-counter analgesia is available through pharmacies when needed. Paracetamol is most commonly prescribed. Anti-inflammatories, such as Ibuprofen, are also used, but as there is little or no inflammation involved in osteoarthritis these are best avoided without discussing with your GP. Side effects are even more common than with paracetamol so please ensure to take appropriate medical advice. There is a good booklet on the Arthritis Research UK website with information about the various drug options.

Modifying ergonomics
Modifications include raising your seat height, changing the backrest angle, lumbar wedges as well as ensuring there is an appropriate overall set up if working with display screen equipment. Everyone is different so try out slightly different combinations which may work best for you.