What Are The 4 Classifications of Neck Pain?

Neck pain is an extremely common condition that most people will experience at some point in their lives. While there can be many causes of neck pain, it is generally categorized into four main types:

Mechanical Neck Pain

    Mechanical neck pain is the most common cause of neck pain. It refers to pain caused by problems with the components that make up the neck, including the vertebrae, discs, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Mechanical neck pain usually results from poor posture, sleeping in an awkward position, injuries, or just the general wear and tear that comes with age. Sources of mechanical neck pain include:

    • Muscle strain from overuse or awkward positions
    • Injuries like whiplash from car accidents
    • Herniated discs pressing on nerves
    • Degenerative disc disease from aging
    • Arthritis in the facet joints between vertebrae

    Mechanical neck pain often feels like muscle tightness or spasms and causes stiffness and reduced mobility in the neck. It can range from mild to severe pain and may sometimes radiate into the shoulders or arms.

    Radicular Neck Pain

      Radicular neck pain occurs when a nerve in the neck is compressed, inflamed, or damaged. This can cause pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness that radiates out from the neck and down the arms into the shoulders, hands, and fingers. The most common cause of radicular neck pain is a herniated cervical disc pressing on a nerve root. Other causes include bone spurs, scar tissue, or tumors.

      Radicular pain follows the pattern of the irritated nerve. For example, a herniated disc in the C6 vertebrae can cause radicular pain into the thumb and index finger. Seeking prompt treatment for radicular neck pain is important to prevent permanent nerve damage.

      Myofascial Neck Pain

        Myofascial pain syndrome affects the fascia (connective tissue) and muscles in the neck and back of the head. It causes chronic pain characterized by trigger points, which are irritated knots in the muscles that cause referred pain in other parts of the body when touched. Myofascial neck pain is associated with poor posture, injury, repetitive motions, or stress.

        Myofascial pain is typically described as a constant dull ache. The trigger points can spasm and cause shooting or burning pain in the neck, head, or shoulders. Myofascial pain may start in the neck but can spread to cause headaches, jaw pain, and upper back pain. Massage, trigger point therapy, and stretching help treat this type of neck pain.

        Nonspecific Neck Pain

          Nonspecific neck pain refers to episodes of neck pain that have no specific cause. It often comes on suddenly and tends to be temporary. However, it can also involve ongoing pain. Nonspecific neck pain may be related to:

          • Sleeping in an awkward position
          • Stress and muscle tension
          • Minor strains or sprains

          The pain is described as stiffness and aching without a clear source. Since there is no specific injury, nonspecific neck pain usually resolves itself with rest, heat/cold therapy, massage, and OTC pain relievers. If the pain persists longer than a few weeks, seeing a doctor is recommended.

          Knowing the type of neck pain helps determine appropriate treatment. While many cases of neck pain resolve with conservative measures, persistent or severe pain should be evaluated by a doctor. Proper diagnosis is key to finding relief.