When you have a literal pain in the neck, it can be easy to get caught up in the "what-ifs." What if it's meningitis, cancer, or some other serious or deadly condition? The good news is that the vast majority of the time, neck pain is not caused by anything very serious. Occasionally, of course, it could be. Here are a few indications that you need to seek out medical care sooner rather than later when it comes to an achy, painful neck.

Stiffness With Flu-Like Symptoms

If you sleep with your neck held at an odd angle or you have been sitting still for a long time, it's not uncommon for your neck to feel stiff and sore. How can you differentiate this type of soreness from the stiffness and pain that accompanies meningitis, a potentially fatal inflammation of the meninges, or protective tissues surrounding the brain and upper spine? 

First, meningitis stiffness is usually severe. You wouldn't be able to bend your chin toward your neck without difficulty and pain. Secondly, meningitis does not feature a stiff, sore neck as its only symptom. There would also be a high fever, general achiness, fatigue, and other very noticeable symptoms involved. If you do have these symptoms, seek medical care immediately.

Long-Lasting Neck Pain With Unexpected Weight Loss

Cancer is at the top of list of worries for many people. Any pain that seems out of the ordinary might prompt you to start looking up the symptoms of cancer, and neck pain is no exception. While rare, it is possible for cancer to cause spinal pain. If your neck pain comes on gradually and continues to get worse over the course of several weeks, it's worth going to the doctor to have it evaluated. Keep in mind that other symptoms of spinal cancer often include unexpected weight loss, muscle weakness, difficulty moving the extremities, and some degree of numbness or paralysis.

Severe, Sudden Pain on One Side

An arterial dissection is a tear in the lining of the artery. It can be caused by trauma, such as a car accident or chiropractic manipulation. The biggest danger is that an arterial dissection in the neck can cause a stroke. If you have sudden, severe pain on one side of your neck and you have had some type of trauma to the head or neck, seek emergency care to rule out or confirm an arterial dissection.

If you have non-severe neck pain that lasts just a few days, you can probably cross these worries off of your list. Most of the time, neck pain responds well to over-the-counter painkillers, ice, or heat application. Seek medical care if you are worried or if your pain gets worse.

For more information, contact a center such as Physical Therapy at ACAC.