Your doctor or nurse will perform a physical exam and ask about your neck pain, including how often it occurs and how much it hurts. Other questions may include:
- Is your pain in the front, back, or side of your neck?
- Are both sides of your neck affected equally?
- When did the pain first develop?
- Is it painful all the time or does the pain come and go?
- Can you touch your chin to your chest?
- What makes your neck feel worse? What makes your neck feel better?
- Do you have neck weakness or neck stiffness?
- Do you have any accompanying symptoms like numbness, tingling, or weakness in your arm or hand?
- Do you have swollen glands or a lump in your neck?
Your answers help the doctor determine the cause of your neck pain and whether it is likely to quickly get better with simple measures such as ice, mild painkillers, physical therapy, and proper exercises. Most of the time, neck pain will get better in 4 to 6 weeks using these approaches.
Your doctor or nurse will probably not order any tests during the first visit, unless you have symptoms or a medical history that suggests a tumor, infection, fracture, or serious nerve disorder. In that case, the following tests may be done:
- X-rays of the neck
- CT scan of the neck or head
- Blood tests such as a complete blood count (CBC)
- MRI of the neck
If the pain is due to muscle spasm or a pinched nerve, your health care provider may prescribe a muscle relaxant or a more powerful pain reliever. Over-the-counter medications often work as well as prescription drugs. The health care provider may prescribe a neck collar or, if there is nerve damage, refer you to a neurologist or neurosurgeon for consultation.
If your doctor or nurse thinks your neck pain may be due to meningitis, you will be sent to an emergency department for further tests and treatment.