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Non-specific neck pain

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What is non-specific neck pain?
Non-specific (or simple) neck pain has no specific underlying disease causing the pain. It is therefore necessary to exclude specific causes of neck pain, particularly those that are serious.

Serious causes
  • Serious spinal abnormality: look for red flags.
  • Whiplash injury: history of recent sudden/excessive hyperextension, flexion, or rotation of the neck.
  • Acute torticollis (acute spasm with no obvious underlying cause).
  • Cervical radiculopathy: unilateral neck, shoulder, or arm pain that approximates to a dermatome.
  • Non-musculoskeletal causes: e.g. cardiovascular, respiratory or oesophageal disease; acute upper respiratory tract infection; sore throat.

Suspect non-specific neck pain if the pain varies with different physical activities and with time, or is related to an awkward movement, poor posture, or overuse. Commonly, exercise makes the pain worse and rest relieves it, but the opposite may also be true.

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