Causes and Diagnoses

Causes and Diagnoses of Neck Pain

Even with today's technology, the exact cause of neck pain is not always apparent. In most cases, back and neck pain may be a symptom of many different causes, including any of the following:

  • Overuse, strenuous activity or improper use, such as repetitive or heavy lifting
  • Trauma, injury or fractures
  • Degeneration of vertebrae, caused by either stress on the muscles and ligaments that support the spine or the effects of aging
  • Infection
  • Abnormal growth, such as a tumor or bone spur
  • Obesity, causing increased weight on the spine and pressure on the discs
  • Poor muscle tone
  • Muscle tension or spasm
  • Sprain or strain
  • Ligament or muscle tears
  • Joint problems, such as arthritis
  • Smoking
  • Protruding or herniated (slipped) disk and pinched nerve
  • Osteoporosis and compression fractures
  • Congenital (present at birth) abnormalities of the vertebrae and bones
  • Abdominal problems, such as an aortic aneurysm


Your physician will use a variety of tests to help diagnose your neck pain, including:

  • X-ray: Identifies any trauma, fractures or degeneration of the spine
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: Uses X-ray and computers to give a more detailed view of the spine
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Allows the physician to see bone as well as soft tissue
  • Myelogram: An X-ray of the spinal canal itself, using a contrast solution to show pressure areas
  • Electromyogram and nerve conduction studies (EMG/NCS): Measures electrical impulses to determine the extent of nerve damage
  • Bone density test: Determines if you have osteoporosis
  • Blood test: Can identify arthritis, in some cases