Your doctor will take a medical history and do an exam. He or she will check for tenderness, numbness and muscle weakness, as well as see how far you can move your head forward, backward and side to side.
Your doctor might order imaging tests to get a better picture of the cause of your neck pain. Examples include:
- X-rays. X-rays can reveal areas in your neck where your nerves or spinal cord might be pinched by bone spurs or other degenerative changes.
- CT scan. CT scans combine X-ray images taken from many different directions to produce detailed cross-sectional views of the internal structures of your neck.
- MRI. MRI uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field to create detailed images of bones and soft tissues, including the spinal cord and the nerves coming from the spinal cord.
It's possible to have X-ray or MRI evidence of structural problems in your neck without having symptoms. Imaging studies are best used as an adjunct to a careful history and physical exam to determine the cause of your pain.
- Electromyography (EMG). If your doctor suspects your neck pain might be related to a pinched nerve, he or she might suggest an EMG. It involves inserting fine needles through your skin into a muscle and performing tests to measure the speed of nerve conduction to determine whether specific nerves are functioning properly.
- Blood tests. Blood tests can sometimes provide evidence of inflammatory or infectious conditions that might be causing or contributing to your neck pain.