Upper Neck Pain

Upper neck pain is also often associated with headaches as the pain from cervical spine structures can be referred to other areas of the head. The nerves which connect the skin, face, forehead, temples and eye sockets are also connected to those nerves in the neck which can be irritated by injuries and disease.

Whiplash and Neck Strain

Poor healing from a traumatic accident, such as a car collision or fall from a horse, can lead to chronic pain associated with the whiplash or neck strain, as well as the initial acute pain of the event itself. If the area is not given time to heal and is placed under further stress, through work or recreational activity, then the pain and damage may worsen.

Degenerative Upper Neck Conditions

Pain in the upper neck may be caused by specific problems with the structures found in the upper cervical spine. Osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis on some occasions, can cause the connective and soft tissues to degenerate with resulting pain as structures such as nerves and blood vessels are compressed. Simple daily activities such as typing at a keyboard, sleeping on the stomach with the head turned to one side, and slouching front of the television in the same position for long periods can lead to wear and tear on the spine.

A Modern Problem

The increasing prevalence of mobile phones, particularly in growing teenagers and children, also presents problems around upper neck pain. Research at the University of Waterloo (2010) found that almost all cell-phone users (84%) experienced some degree of pain, whether in the neck, the phone-holding-hand, or the back. Making use of a hands-free device (clearly essential whilst driving), will stave off some of these problems. The use of cell-phones by children is of specific concern as their bodies are still growing and particular repetitive strains on the right hands, arms and shoulders can have long-term ramifications for future health issues including upper neck pain.

Upper neck pain may also be due to swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, or of glands in the neck, particularly if there is an infection present. If persistent, medical advice should be sought to check for any underlying causes. If it is due to poor posture at work then it may be possible to have an employer engage the services of ergonomics advisers to overhaul the current office environment.

It is also possible, but unlikely, that there is a problem with circulation if upper neck pain is experienced. If the muscles in the neck are very tense they may compress the occipital artery which runs along the top of the neck at the base of the skull. The resulting reduced blood flow can produce pain in the upper neck. Using relaxation techniques should assist if this is the cause, although medical advice should always be sought to rule out more serious conditions.

Other, rare, causes of upper neck pain include malignant tumorous growths at the base of the skull connected to the suboccipital nerve. These can metastasise very rapidly and any lumps that appear to grow in size gradually, feel fixed under the skin, or appear without presence of infection or trauma should be thoroughly investigated as soon as possible.

Usually upper neck pain will simply be a result of overtaxing the muscles that support the heavy head on a daily basis and as can be expected, this type of neck pain is almost unavoidable. Using strengthening neck exercises daily can help prevent these types of strains and pains.


Berolo, S., Wells, R.P., Amick, B.C. 3rd, (2010), Musculoskeletal symptoms among mobile hand-held device users and their relationship to device use: A preliminary study in a Canadian university population, Appl Ergon, 2010 Sep 10th.