When a pain in the neck is serious

A tear in one of the main arteries of the neck is a rare cause of stroke.

You probably don't give much thought to your neck, unless something goes wrong and it starts to hurt. This underappreciated body part has to be strong enough to support a heavy weight (your head) yet still allow you to tilt, turn, and nod your head easily.

Most of the time, neck pain doesn't signal a serious medical problem. But it's worth learning about one of the rare exceptions: a tear in one of the arteries of the neck, known as a cervical artery dissection (see "What is a cervical artery dissection?"). Although these occur in only about two in 100,000 people per year, they are one of the most common causes of stroke in people under age 50.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »