Can neck pain be a sign of something serious?
The neck is a vital part of the human body, comprising spinal bones, muscles, and other tissue. Unlike some other crucial parts of the body, the neck is exposed and at risk of injury. The neck is also prone to straining because people move it constantly throughout the day.
It is also common for a person to experience pain in connected areas, such as the shoulders, back, jaw, and head.
In this article, we discuss nine common causes of pain in the right side of the neck, as well as treatment options and when to see a doctor.
Causes of pain in the right side of the neck
Some of the most common causes of pain in the right side of the neck include the following:
1. Degeneration or wear and tear
Gradual wear and tear may cause pain on the right side of the neck.
The vertebrae and discs in the neck will wear down with age. As they degenerate, a person may experience chronic, or persistent, pain in the neck.
Some medical conditions can also cause the vertebrae, discs, and other parts of the neck to break down.
These conditions may include:
2. Bad sleeping position
It is common to wake up feeling stiffness or pain in the shoulders, back, or neck.
The sleeping position that people adopt, the number of pillows that they use, and the firmness of the mattress can all affect how they feel waking up in the morning.
Falling asleep with either a lack of support for the head or the neck out of alignment increases the likelihood of waking up with a sore neck.
3. Non-specific neck pain
In some cases, it is difficult to identify the exact cause of neck pain.
Neck pain without an apparent cause often results from a minor sprain or tear to the muscle tissue. This type of pain is the most common neck pain.
The pain can sometimes be due to poor posture. Holding the neck out of alignment for extended periods can strain the muscles.
This is particularly true when a person is bent forward over their work for several hours during the day.
4. Stress and anxiety
Stress may cause the muscles to tighten. People often talk about holding tension in their neck and back, and they may feel pain from the excess strain.
5. Sudden-onset or acute torticollis
Torticollis is a medical condition in which the head becomes twisted to one side. It can be very painful to try to straighten out the head. The cause of torticollis is not always known.
Doctors suspect that most cases are due to minor ligament or muscle sprains in the neck, although exposing the neck to cold temperatures for an extended period could also be a cause.
Torticollis often occurs overnight, meaning that a person will have no symptoms when they go to bed but will wake up unable to move their neck. In most cases, the pain will subside after a few days and movement will return to normal.
Occasionally, torticollis may be a symptom of a more severe health issue. Some potential underlying causes of torticollis include tumors, infections, and side effects from taking medications.
6. Brachial plexus injury
If the nerves connecting the spinal cord to the hands are damaged, it may cause neck pain.
The American Society for Surgery of the Hand define the brachial plexus as a collection of nerves that connect the spinal cord in the neck to the hands.
If an injury to the neck affects the brachial plexus, pain may also occur in the hand.
A common cause of injury to the brachial plexus is blunt force trauma, which can happen as a result of a sporting injury or car accident.
7. Whiplash or a sudden jolt to the neck
Whiplash describes an injury to the neck where the head jolts forward and then back into place very quickly.
The movement resembles the crack of a whip. People tend to think of whiplash in relation to car accidents, but it can also occur as a result of sporting activities and other sudden movements.
8. Cervical radiculopathy
Cervical radiculopathy, which people often refer to as a pinched nerve, occurs when irritation of the nerves originating in the spinal cord in the neck causes pain to radiate down the arm.
Although this can result in pain in the neck, the primary symptoms include:
- numbness in the arms
- pins and needles in the arms
- pain or weakness in part of the arms
The two most common causes of cervical radiculopathy are cervical spondylosis, or neck arthritis, and a prolapsed disc.
9. Rare causes of right side neck pain
There are less common causes of neck pain that may be more severe. These may include:
- rheumatoid arthritis
- serious injury
- damage to the nerves, vertebrae, or spinal cord
- bone disorders
Treatment and home remedies
Stretching and doing neck exercises may help to ease the pain.
When neck pain is mild or moderate, it is usually possible to treat the symptoms at home. Some cases of neck pain will clear up quickly over the course of a day while others may require a few weeks to resolve fully.
A person may wish to use home remedies before seeking medical help. People can try the following methods to ease their pain:
- taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications
- applying heat using heating pads, baths, or warm, moist towels
- massaging and manipulating the neck
- stretching the neck
- reducing stress
- applying ice to the injured area
- practicing good posture when sitting, standing, and walking
- sleeping in a position that supports the neck
- performing exercises to help keep the neck strong
However, home remedies may not always alleviate the pain. Some people will require medical treatment to achieve relief from their neck pain. The exact treatment will depend on whether or not any underlying conditions are causing the pain.
A doctor may try the following additional treatments:
- muscle relaxants
- injecting medications directly into the neck
- physical or occupational therapy
When to see a doctor
It is generally not necessary to see a doctor for mild or moderate pain or discomfort. Taking OTC medications and moving gently throughout the day should help to minimize the pain.
If the pain is severe or persistent or there are additional symptoms, it is advisable to seek medical advice.
A doctor can help to determine whether or not there are more severe injuries or other conditions that require treatment. They can also prescribe stronger treatments to ease the pain.
Pain on the right side of the neck is rarely a cause for concern. Most causes of this pain are benign and treatable with home remedies.
If symptoms persist or are severe, a person should seek medical attention as soon as possible. Most cases of neck pain should resolve within 1–2 weeks.