Epidemiology, diagnosis, and treatment of neck pain

Mayo Clin Proc. 2015 Feb;90(2):284-99. doi: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2014.09.008.


Neck pain is the fourth leading cause of disability, with an annual prevalence rate exceeding 30%. Most episodes of acute neck pain will resolve with or without treatment, but nearly 50% of individuals will continue to experience some degree of pain or frequent occurrences. History and physical examination can provide important clues as to whether the pain is neuropathic or mechanical and can also be used to identify "red flags" that may signify serious pathology, such as myelopathy, atlantoaxial subluxation, and metastases. Magnetic resonance imaging is characterized by a high prevalence of abnormal findings in asymptomatic individuals but should be considered for cases involving focal neurologic symptoms, pain refractory to conventional treatment, and when referring a patient for interventional treatment. Few clinical trials have evaluated treatments for neck pain. Exercise treatment appears to be beneficial in patients with neck pain. There is some evidence to support muscle relaxants in acute neck pain associated with muscle spasm, conflicting evidence for epidural corticosteroid injections for radiculopathy, and weak positive evidence for cervical facet joint radiofrequency denervation. In patients with radiculopathy or myelopathy, surgery appears to be more effective than nonsurgical therapy in the short term but not in the long term for most people.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neck Pain* / diagnosis
  • Neck Pain* / epidemiology
  • Neck Pain* / therapy