Neck problems

Neck problems can cause a range of symptoms including pain (which may go down your arm), stiffness and pins and needles/numbness in your arm or hand.

In many cases, new or flare-up of long-standing neck problems should begin to settle within 6 weeks without the need to see a healthcare professional.

When to seek help

Speak to a healthcare professional as soon as possible if:

  • feel numbness, pins and needles or weakness that is worsening in one or both arms
  • have problems with your balance or walking since your neck pain started
  • develop blurred vision, ringing in your ears or dizziness that doesn't go away within 48 hours

What causes neck problems?

Neck problems are normally caused by an accident or normal age-related changes. They can also start for no obvious reason.

Neck problems are rarely due to any serious disease or damage.

Can this cause problems anywhere else?

Your neck problem can sometimes cause hot, burning, shooting, or stabbing in your shoulders or into one or both of your arms. This can be due to nerve pain.

Neck pain can also cause headaches.

Self-help

Keeping active is an essential part of your treatment and recovery and is the single best thing you can do for your health.

Being physically active can:

  • maintain your current levels of fitness – even if you have to modify what you normally do, any activity is better than none
  • keep your other muscles and joints strong and flexible
  • prevent a recurrence of the problem
  • help you aim for a healthy body weight

Avoid sports or heavy lifting until you have less discomfort and good movement. Remember to warm up before sports.

Exercises to help with neck problems

Resting or moving?

After a neck problem you should:

  • keep moving, even if you move slowly at first
  • move your neck for short periods every hour
  • change positions regularly where ever you are - try to find a position that reduces any pains you may have in your neck and/or arm(s)
  • try to stay active but remember not to carry out activities which aggravate any pains you may have in your neck and/or arm(s)
  • check your pillow isn't too firm or your mattress too soft - this can make your neck problem worse
  • do whatever you normally would and stay at, or return to work - this is important and the best way to get better

Use of a collar isn't recommended.

Pain treatments

The following can help to reduce the pain:

  • Pain medication - this can help you move more comfortably, which can help your recovery
  • Heat packs

Speak to your community pharmacist or other healthcare professional about taking medication. It's important to take medication regularly.

More about taking painkillers

Work

It's recommended you stay at or return to work as quickly as possible during your recovery. You don't need to be pain or symptom-free to return to work.

Help and support

If your neck problem hasn’t improved within 6 weeks of following this advice, it’s a good idea to talk to a healthcare professional about your symptoms.