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What Causes a Crick in the Neck? 6 Pain FAQs

crick-neckQ. What causes a crick in the neck?
A crick in the neck arises from the complex network of muscles and ligaments that hold your spine in place. It’s caused by the cumulative wear and tear of daily life, combined with some small triggering incident—perhaps as minor as a sudden head turn.

Like other types of musculoskeletal pain, most cricks respond to over-the-counter pain relievers, ice packs and/or warm packs. Neck pain that begins after significant trauma or is accompanied by weakness or numbness is something more serious.

Q. What mattress is best for back pain?
newsletter-graphicA. There are so many body types and sleep positions that no preset recommendations can apply to everyone who has back pain. I can offer a few guidelines, however:

  • If you have back pain, a waterbed is an absolute no-no. They offer very little support for your lower back.
  • Mattresses lose support over time, so be sure yours is not too old.
  • A firm mattress will offer more support than a soft one. How firm you should go depends on your own preference.

When purchasing a mattress, try to buy from a dealer with a liberal exchange policy, so that if you find you are unhappy with your choice, you can experiment with other brands.

Get articles like this from the experts every month in our free My Family Doctor newsletter.

Q. Why does my arthritis hurt more in the morning than in the evening?
A. It is well-known that people with inflammatory diseases of the joints experience more pain and stiffness in the morning. As the day goes by, the discomfort diminishes. Rheumatologists use this characteristic to help distinguish between pain due to inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and pain due to osteoarthritis (a degenerative disease).

One reason for this phenomenon is that certain chemicals in the body that contribute to inflammation reach a peak during the night and early morning. Another reason has to do with corticosteroids—or the lack thereof. These substances reduce inflammation. You should secrete most of them in the morning, but in people with rheumatoid arthritis, this effect seems to be blunted.

Learn more: Hot-pepper cream for arthritis
Learn more: Bee stings for arthritis 

Why does sitting at my desk make my back hurt?

A. Sitting with your back bent puts stress on the discs in your lower back. The more pressure you place on your discs, the more likely you are to develop a disc bulge, which can impinge upon nerve pathways, causing pain.


Our spines were designed to move, and by maintaining a sedentary, seated posture we can eventually weaken discs, lose strength and flexibility, and set ourselves up for back pain. When your rest, you rust!

Q. My back felt fine last weekend after I helped my friend move, but yesterday, it went out on me at work when I bent over to pick up a pen I dropped. How can that be?
A. A lot of times your back gets set up for injury, but it doesn’t really trigger until you’re doing something minor. Even if you feel pretty good after you put an atypical amount of strain on your back, make sure to use preventative measures, such as proper lifting techniques, proper pre- and post-activity stretching and adequate recovery time after the activity.

The Doctors

Eva F. Briggs, M.D., board-certified family physician in Marcellus, N.Y.

Carmen Gota, M.D., rheumatologist at Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio.

Andrew Kirschner, D.O., founder of Back Together (pain management techniques for couples); author, Back Together: Hands-on Healing for Couples; board certified in family medicine and osteopathic manual medicine.

Claire Michaels Wheeler M.D., Ph.D., integrative psychologist (focusing on writing and teaching); author, 10 Simple Solutions to Stress: How to Tame Tension & Start Enjoying Your Life.


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Last updated and/or approved: September 2011.
Original questions and answers appeared in various issues of the former print magazine. Bio current as of that issue. This general health-care information is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.
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