Managing the pain in your neck is important. However, worrying about every little twitch, spasm, and ache isn’t going to do any good, either. Who hasn’t tried to self-diagnosing their symptoms online, only to be even more stressed out by what you find? Before you sit down and play doctor, take a moment to assess what kind of neck pain you’re experiencing. By looking at some of these common types of neck pain, you’ll be able to know whether you need to call in an expert or just take some time to relax and let your body work it out.

1. Stiff Neck

stiff neck

A pretty common source of neck pain, a stiff neck can be a real annoyance as it means you can barely move your head around. Often caused by sleeping in an awkward position, it usually goes away after a few hours. To prevent waking up with a stiff neck, you can adjust your sleeping patterns, get a massage, or invest in a pillow that is better suited to your preferred sleeping position.

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When to Worry:

If that stiff neck persists more than a day, something could be out of place, especially if you start to notice some swelling along with the stiffness. Don’t try to crack your neck back into place – call a professional to get your neck properly adjusted so you have full movement again.

2. Joint Cracking

neck joint cracking

Every now and then you might hear a crack, pop, or grinding sound in one of your neck’s spinal joints when you twist or tilt your neck to the side. Don’t panic — most of the time this is extremely normal. All joints in the body have a tendency to build up gasses in the synovial fluid that get released when you move a certain way. This is called crepitus.

When to Worry:

Popping can also be a sign of dysfunction or damage in a cervical joint. If the popping or cracking occurs every time after moving your neck the same way, or there is swelling accompanying the popping or it happens after something like a car accident, then you should call a doctor and get your neck looked at properly before it devolves into something worse.

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3. Tension Headaches

neck pain tension headache

One of the most common types of headache, a tension headache can also extend down to your neck. They’re caused by muscle contractions in the back of the head and neck. Usually not serious, you can even prevent them by stretching out your neck regularly and using a massager to ease the muscles and improve circulation.

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When to Worry:

If the pain gets worse or is accompanied by nausea, vomiting or sensitivity to light and sounds, then you might be experiencing a migraine, which is far more severe than a tension headache and can be debilitating. Persistent migraines can be a symptom of more serious conditions, so you should get checked out by a doctor if you have them.

4. Sharp, Numbing & Stabbing Pain

types of neck pain sharp stabbing numbing

Not associated with any one particular problem, these other forms of neck pain can vary in their severity. Often many of them are the result of bad sleep. Usually they are isolated in the neck itself and will go away after a short time if they’re not serious.

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When to Worry:

For these and all other general forms of neck pain, you should run through this checklist to see whether you need to call a professional better diagnose the pain. This includes the following:

  • If the pain is continuous and more severe, even after trying various home medications and remedies
  • If the numbing or tingling pain goes into other parts of the body such as the arms or fingers
  • If you experience a loss of balance or coordination
  • If light tapping on the spine is painful
  • If you have trouble lifting or gripping objects
  • If the pain persists more than 6 weeks

Most neck pain is nothing to be concerned about. Proper posture and sleep can help prevent a lot of daily neck pain you can experience. For minor tension headaches and stiff necks, massagers and heat packs are a great relief. It’s only when the pain becomes more severe over long periods of time that you should be really concerned and call a doctor. By properly assessing your neck pain, you should be able to manage it without it becoming a source of stress and worry.