Varying degrees of pain in the back of the neck can stem from several common causes. Pain in this area of the body is also commonly referred to as cervical pain, named after the anatomical label for that portion of the spine. Some of the leading causes of neck pain include degenerative disc disease, herniated discs and pinched nerves.
The cartilage within the supportive structures of the spine and, for that matter, cartilage throughout the remainder of your body thins over time. This leaves the discs open to a gradual deterioration. Degenerative disc disease is the result. Degenerative disc disease occurring in the cervical spine area results in back of the neck pain, inflammation and muscle spasms.
Back of the neck pain, or cervical pain, can also come about from a herniated disc. Discs of the spinal cord are made up of an outer layer, the annulus, and an inner layer, the nucleus. The nucleus can seep out of the disc through the annulus and cause irritation and pain as it comes in contact with nerves resting along the spine. This leads to pain at the location of the herniated disc and along the nerve pathway leading to other parts of the body, such as the arms and legs.
Too much pressure placed on a nerve from surrounding structures, such as muscles, tendons and bones, can lead to the pinching of a nerve and result in back of the neck pain. Simple movements, including coughing, can aggravate the pain in the back of the neck when it stems from a pinched nerve. Pinched nerves also result in numbness, muscle weakness and tingling.
Other common causes of back of the neck pain to consider include strains. Strains, such as whiplash, occur from sudden movements. Even incorrect sleeping positions can contribute to neck strain. In addition, lifting heavy objects incorrectly can put additional strain on your neck and lead to painful muscle spasms and injury.
Occupational hazards also contribute to back of the neck pain. Hours spent in front of a computer can lead to neck pain. Poor posture and viewing a computer monitor not set to an appropriate height can both contribute to neck strain resulting in neck pain over time.
While physical complications can lead to pain in the back of the neck, so can emotional and mental difficulties. Stress, depression and a variety of mood disorders are just a few of the culprits. Strain and pain result from a tightening of the surrounding muscles as those muscles tense up in reaction to stress and other emotional issues.