Neck Pain Causes: A Sports Medicine Specialist’s Guide

Anatomy of the Neck

The neck, or the cervical spine, is a sophisticated structure that supports the head and facilitates motion. It comprises seven vertebrae, C1 to C7, and each vertebra consists of a cylindrical body.

The muscles, ligaments, and tendons in the neck provide structural support and enable movement, while intervertebral discs between the vertebrae act as cushions to absorb shock and allow for smooth motions.

Due to its wide range of movement, the neck is susceptible to injury and pain, particularly in individuals who are engaged in sports or physical activities.

Sports-Related Causes of Neck Pain

Sports-related activities can often put significant stress on the neck and cause wear and tear on its muscles and ligaments.

Muscle Strain

Muscle strain is a common injury among athletes, and it occurs when muscle fibres are overstretched or torn due to overuse or an acute injury. The neck’s muscles may become strained from sudden movements or sustained awkward positions during sports, leading to pain and stiffness. Individuals may also experience muscle spasms and even swelling in more severe cases.


Whiplash is a neck injury resulting from a forceful, rapid back-and-forth movement of the neck, and it predominantly occurs in contact sports such as football or rugby. This movement can stretch or tear the neck muscles and ligaments, causing severe pain and reduced range of motion. Stiffness in the neck, headaches and dizziness are also symptoms of whiplash.

Herniated Disc

Athletes may experience a herniated disc from repetitive strain or trauma. It occurs when the gel-like centre of a disc protrudes through a tear in its outer ring, pressing on nearby nerves and causing pain, numbness, or weakness in the neck, arm, or shoulder.

Therefore, the neck pain from this injury can be localised or may radiate down to other parts of the body.

Cervical Spondylosis

Cervical spondylosis is often related to ageing but it can also be accelerated by sports activities. It involves the wear and tear of cartilage and bones in the neck, leading to chronic pain, stiffness, and decreased mobility.

Overuse Injuries

Overuse injuries result from repetitive motions or prolonged stress on the neck’s structures. It is common in sports requiring repetitive overhead motions, like swimming, or sports with constant head movement, like gymnastics. These injuries can lead to conditions like tendinitis or bursitis, causing pain and limiting an athlete’s performance.

Non-Sports Related Causes of Neck Pain

While sports and physical activities are commonly associated with neck pain, several other factors can also contribute to chronic neck discomfort and mobility issues.

Poor Posture

Adopting an improper posture during daily activities, especially for extended periods, is a prevalent cause of neck pain. Slouching or leaning forward, such as when using computers, or smartphones, places excessive stress on the cervical spine.

This unnatural alignment can strain the muscles, ligaments, and discs in the neck, leading to discomfort and stiffness.

Stress-Induced Tension

Stress-induced tension in the neck stems from the body’s physical response to psychological or emotional stress. When individuals experience stress, the natural reaction often involves the tensing of muscles, particularly those in the neck and shoulders.

Degenerative Disc Disease

As part of the natural ageing process, the intervertebral discs can lose hydration and elasticity, leading to degenerative disc disease. This condition can cause the discs to thin and lose their ability to cushion the vertebrae, resulting in pain and reduced mobility in the neck.


Osteoarthritis, a common form of arthritis, can affect the joints in the neck. It involves the deterioration of cartilage that allows for smooth movement between bones, leading to pain, stiffness, and a decreased range of motion.

Diagnosing Neck Pain

An accurate diagnosis is important for effectively managing neck pain and identifying its underlying causes. When you visit a healthcare provider for neck pain, the diagnostic process usually involves a physical examination and diagnostic imaging tests if necessary.

During the physical examination, your doctor will assess your neck’s range of motion, muscle strength, and nerve function. This may involve observing your posture, movement, and any pain response while performing certain tasks.

Imaging studies such as X-rays, MRI scans, or CT scans can provide detailed views of the cervical spine’s bones, discs, and other structures. These tests help identify issues like herniated discs, arthritis, or other abnormalities that may contribute to neck pain.


Neck pain, whether arising from sports-related activities, daily habits, or other factors, necessitates a comprehensive approach for effective management and relief.

Professional evaluation ensures that underlying causes are identified, allowing for targeted treatment that not only alleviates pain but also aims to prevent future occurrences. For expert guidance and support in managing neck pain, contact our clinic today.