Cervicalgia Symptoms and Treatment

neck pain

Cervicalgia is a term used to describe pain or significant discomfort in your neck, especially at the back and/or sides.

Many experts believe that by the time we are 65, nearly everyone (95 percent of people) will have had at least one episode of cervicalgia.

Another way to understand cervicalgia is an intense form of localized pain in the cervical spine.

The cervical spine is defined as the area extending from the first spinal vertebra through the 7th. The first bone of your spine is located at about the level of your ears, and the 7th is located at the nape of the neck. The first 7 spinal bones are the ones that make up the neck. This means that the bone below the 7th cervical vertebra, is not the 8th, as one might expect, but rather the first thoracic vertebra. It is attached to the first rib and is associated with the thoracic spine, which corresponds to the upper and mid-back areas.)

Authors of a 2016 study say that disruption between the strength and flexibility of neck muscles can lead to cervicalgia.


But, in reality, cervicalgia is a bit of a catch-all term. The definition, according to the National Institutes of Health, is an alternative name for neck pain, neck stiffness and/or whiplash.

The ICD-10, which is the coding system most physicians and therapists use to bill insurance doesn't give direct causes for cervicalgia — with the exception of disc disorder of the cervical spine.

 When discs are at the root of your cervicalgia, the IDC-10 code is M50. When the cause is not stated the code is M54.2.

And the ICD-10 coding for cervicalgia indicates that it can be either chronic or acute.

 A 2011 study published in the Physical Medicine Rehabilitation Clinics of North America found that while it's generally difficult to pinpoint the structural cause of cervicalgia, doing so may help guide your treatment choices.

The authors point out that the medical history you share with your doctor can help her rule out yellow and red flags as causes. After that, the physical exam will likely help confirm a diagnosis.


If you have cervicalgia, your symptoms may include constant neck ache, sharp pain in your neck, which is often brought about by movement (especially when you turn or twist it,) tension or stiffness in the muscles of your upper back and/or neck, headaches or neck muscles that are tender to the touch.

The area of the cervical spine is the home to sensory organs and nerves, which means cervicalgia can be responsible for other types of symptoms, too. A 2016 study found dizziness to be very frequent, along with tinnitus (ringing in the ears), neck cracking and hearing problems. Symptoms relating to your cardiovascular system are possible, too.

Your Psychological State

In a 2012 study by Szasz and associates, which was about psychological disorders and cervicalgia (many cases of which were due to degenerative changes occurring in the cervical spine,) the condition was defined as a clinical syndrome usually associated with limited neck mobility and/or radiating pain in one or both arms. The radiating pain, the authors say, tends to be accompanied by the sensation of pins and needles in the fingers.

But there’s more to the story than just the physical symptoms. The research team found that mood changes, specifically anxiety and depression, quite often are part of the clinical picture.

Making strides towards symptom relief is easiest when your cervicalgia is not also accompanied by anxiety or depression, say Szasz and fellow researchers. They also note that when neck pain is present early on in cervical spondylosis, you may have a higher risk for anxiety or depression.


Cervicalgia, is, as I mentioned above, a bit of a catch-all phrase for many types of neck pain. To that end, treatments may vary widely, according to the exact cause.

Rx for neck pain generally consists of pain medication such as Tylenol or NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, for example, aspirin or Aleve,) physical therapy, reduced activity and possibly wearing a collar to help stabilize the area. If symptoms keep bothering (longer than a week,) or if they seriously disrupt your regular routine, speak with your doctor.

And don’t discount the role that holistic therapies might play in the healing of your neck pain. Acupuncture, easy yoga, easy Pilates, and Tai Chi have all helped many people get past cervicalgia. In fact, a 2017 study found that neck pain got better in people who developed postural awareness from doing Tai Chi.

Lumbago is a similar term to cervicalgia that refers to pain in the low back.

View Article Sources
  • Alexander, E.History, physical examination, and differential diagnosis of neck pain. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am. 2011 Aug
  • ICD 10 Data. Cervicalgia. 2015/16 ICD-10-CM Diagnosis CodeM54.2. ICD10Data.com.
  • Lauche, R., Does Postural Awareness Contribute to Exercise-Induced Improvements in Neck Pain Intensity? A Secondary Analysis of a Randomized Controlled Trial Evaluating Tai Chi and Neck Exercises Spine. Jan 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/articles/28146026/
  • Neck pain. MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine website. Last update date: March 2015.
  • Szasz, S., Papp, E., Georgescu, L. The Correlation between Chronic Cervicalgia and Anxiety and Depression Disorders. Academica Science Journal. Psychologica Series. No. 1. 2012.
  • Zeigelboim, B. Neurotological Findings at a Health Unit for Adults with Cervicalgia.Int Arch Otorhinolaryngol. April 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27096014