Neck (Cervical) Pain Diagnosis

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Diagnosing the Cause of Neck Pain

Because there are a number of cervical spine conditions that can cause neck pain and each can be associated with similar symptoms, an accurate neck pain diagnosis requires significant skill and expertise from a spine specialist.

How is Neck Pain Diagnosed?

Physicians will perform a series of examinations in order to properly diagnose neck pain and its causes. These will include a thorough history, physical and medical exam, during which a trained spine specialist will check for signs of acute neck pain, muscle weakness, tenderness or numbness in the area of the cervical spine that is affected. Additional neck pain imaging or injection studies may be ordered to arrive at an exact neck pain diagnosis.

Neck Pain Diagnosis

Diagnosing neck pain or any other type of spine pain isn’t always as easy as it seems. There is a wide range of potential causes for neck pain. Sometimes, it is vitally important to “rule out” certain conditions in order to determine the actual cause of a person’s neck pain. When it comes to accurate neck pain diagnosis, the team at BASIC leaves no stone unturned until we find the answers.

The History and Physical

In order to arrive at a precise neck pain diagnosis, the most experienced spine experts will first conduct a thorough history and physical examination. During the history portion of this evaluation, the patient is asked a series of questions regarding their neck pain symptoms which may include when the pain began, whether there was an injury to the neck that caused the pain, a precise explanation of where the pain is located in the neck and how intense it is, whether the pain radiates to the extremities or other parts of the body, any previous spine surgery and family history of conditions affecting the neck.

Upon completion of the historical evaluation, the physician will perform a physical examination for a neck pain diagnosis. The physical exam helps the doctor rule out certain causes of neck pain, while narrowing in on others in order to properly diagnose the neck pain source. While the neck will be a primary source of examination, other parts of the body may also be examined depending on the neck pain symptoms that are being experienced.  Some of the characteristics the physician is evaluating include the range of motion in the neck, muscle weakness, pain or tenderness in certain areas, sensory changes, reflex changes, motor skills and other special signs.


After a thorough physical and history have been conducted in order to learn more about a patient’s neck pain symptoms, the next logical step in neck pain diagnosis is the imaging examination. These types of tests are usually ordered once your physician has a suspicion as to what is causing the neck pain. Often, the MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is a preferred neck pain imaging exam because it’s detailed images can show any changes to the soft tissues surrounding the vertebrae in a way that x-rays simply can’t. For this reason, MRIs are frequently used to visualize whether there is loss of water in a disc, cervical stenosis or a herniated disc.

Cervical Epidural Steroid Injection

During a cervical epidural steroid injection, a local anesthetic medication is injected into the neck joint suspected to be causing the pain. If this procedure makes the neck pain go away, then doctors can be relatively certain that the cervical spine joint in question is the cause of the neck pain and an accurate diagnosis can then be made.

Precisely determining the root cause of neck pain is crucial to an accurate neck pain diagnosis and treatment plan. While this diagnosis may require multiple steps in order to figure out exactly what’s causing the pain, ensuring you find a spine expert who is skilled and experienced in effectively diagnosing neck pain is an important milestone on the road back to an active, pain-free life.

Health Tips For Neck

  • Stretch & Exercise Neck Muscles
  • Sleep on your back & consider a cervical neck pillow
  • Use proper posture & position computer screen at eye level
  • Don’t hold telephone between ear and shoulder
  • Carry weight evenly – no heavy bags or satchels on one side of body

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