Conditions & Treatments

Neck Pain

The neck is located between the head and the shoulders. Because of its location and range of motion, it is often left unprotected and subject to injury.

Neck Pain and Problems

What is neck pain?

The neck is located between the head and the shoulders. Because of its location and range-of-motion, it is often left unprotected and subject to injury.

What causes neck pain?

Photo of woman touching her neck

Neck pain can result from many different causes from injury, to age-related disorders, or inflammatory disease. Causes of neck pain and problems may include the following:

  • Injury (damage to the muscles, tendons, and/or ligaments)

  • Herniated cervical disk

  • Arthritis (for example, osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis)

  • Cervical disk degeneration

  • Congenital (present at birth) abnormalities of the vertebrae and bones

  • Tumors

How is neck pain diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for neck pain may include the following:

  • Blood tests. These tests can help determine the diagnosis of inflammatory disease.

  • X-ray. A diagnostic test that uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of bones onto film.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body; can often determine damage or disease of internal structures within our joints, or in a surrounding ligament or muscle.

  • Computed tomography scan (also called a CT or CAT scan). A diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce horizontal, or axial, images (often called slices) of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general X-rays.

  • Electromyogram (EMG). A test to evaluate nerve function.

Treatment for neck pain

Specific treatment for neck pain will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Your diagnosis

  • Extent of the condition

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the condition

  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment may include:

  • Medication (to reduce inflammation)

  • Medication (to control pain)

  • Rest

  • Physical therapy

  • Neck brace or immobilization

  • Exercise

  • Surgery

Treatment Programs


Massachusetts General Hospital understands that a variety of factors influence patients' health care decisions. That's just one reason why we're dedicated to ensuring patients understand their diagnosis and treatment options. Because a single option might not serve all patients, we offer a wide range of coordinated treatments and related services across the hospital. Patients should consult with their primary care doctor or other qualified health care provider for medical advice and diagnosis information.

Select a treatment program for more information:



Imaging

  • Pediatric Imaging
    The Pediatric Imaging Program at Massachusetts General Hospital Imaging specializes in ensuring the safety and comfort of child patients while providing the latest technology and the expertise of specialized pediatric radiologists.
  • Bone and Joint Imaging and Intervention
    The Bone and Joint Imaging and Intervention Program at Massachusetts General Hospital Imaging offers state-of-the-art diagnostic exams including MRI and CT, interpretation by specialty-trained radiologists, and image-guided procedures for the bones, joints, and spine.
MassGeneral Hospital for Children

  • Pediatric Orthopaedics
    The MassGeneral Hospital for Children Orthopaedics Service provides clinical care to infants, children and adolescents, from birth to college age, for the entire spectrum of musculoskeletal problems.
Department of Orthopaedics

  • Spine Service
    Our Harvard Spine doctors use non-operative therapies as well as advanced surgical techniques to treat scoliosis, spinal disorders, and spinal deformities and injuries helping their patients can get back to doing the things they love.
  • Sports Medicine Service
    Our Boston Sports Medicine team provides comprehensive treatment and rehabilitation for sports-related injuries from recreational, amateur and professional sports. Our Harvard faculty specialize in ACL, MCL and meniscus injuries in athletes and non-athletes.
Benson Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine

  • Consultation
    Come in for a consultation, leave with a comprehensive mind body treatment plan that addresses your stress-related medical condition.
  • Relaxation Response Resiliency Program (3RP)
    Designed to give patients a variety of mind body skills and interventions to decrease medical symptoms and build resilience.

Our commitment to quality and safety

Mass General ensures that our patients receive the highest quality and safest care possible. Learn about our performance, our improvement goals and how we compare to other institutions.