When is Neck Pain an Emergency?

Statistically, no, as neck pain rarely requires an Emergency Room (ER) visit. Here are the 3 reasons you should go.

When Neck Pain needs the Emergency Room

If you are experiencing neck pain PLUS the following, go the ER:

  1. Trauma
  2. Weakness, clumsiness, or altered sensation
  3. Flu-like symptoms and light sensitivity

Let’s look at each in more detail

#1 Neck pain from Trauma

this neck pain needs the ER
Medical Advice

This would be something like a car accident or head trauma. Neck pain is an emergency because it could be a fracture of something bony or a ligament that secures the skull to the spine.

#2 Weakness, clumsiness, or altered sensation

Neck pain like this is an emergency because of spinal cord compression. Weakness and clumsiness could be either arms or legs. Some examples would be:

  • Trouble with buttons
  • Dropping things
  • Unsteady walking

Altered sensation would be like a pins and needles feeling or complete numbness. Neck pain DOES NOT have to be present to need the ER.

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    #3 Flu-Like Symptoms and neck pain

    • Fever
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting

    The concern here is meningitis, which is a stiff neck plus those flu-like symptoms. All kinds of bad things associated with this so go to the ER.

    Why doesn’t the ER care about me

    This was discussed regarding back pain, read about that HERE.

    In a nutshell the ER only cares about life threatening conditions. Neck pain without the above IS NOT life threatening.

    They may give you pain medications, but they would be hit or miss for your neck pain unless they broke out the hard stuff.


    Neck pain sucks, and can be painful, but try not to waste your time going to the ER unless you have pain PLUS the items I listed above. Obviously it’s your neck and life, so go if want. Try not to be mad if/when they send you home without any resolution of your problem.