The first thought that comes to mind once you’ve injured yourself or started feeling pain is ‘will this go away?’ or ‘how long will this last?’. Neck pain in particular is especially unpleasant, it can limit almost every basic activity in our daily lives. Whether it’s just rolling over in bed, lifting our coffee cup in the morning or checking our mirrors whilst driving, neck pain affects almost everything.

The initial intensity of most forms of neck pain can be quite high, making us feel like we will be injured for multiple weeks or months. Reducing the uncertainty of how long the pain will last is often the first thing we all look for from a health professional, aside from some pain relief.

So what do we know about neck pain duration and prognosis?

  • We know that 90% of all types of neck pain are considerably improved or resolved within a month. 
  • Most forms of neck pain are recovered mostly within the first one to two weeks. With 80% of participants in one major study feeling comfortable to return to work after one week. 

The above numbers are especially relevant for those without any major tissue injury – e.g. nerve root irritation or cervical fracture. Most musculoskeletal pain has no distinct singular cause (e.g. tissue injury) and arises from a complex interaction of things like stress, sleep, activity levels and local tissue strength/tolerance. 

This complex interaction of these factors is why some forms of neck pain can persist. We know from the study quoted above that despite having considerable improvements in symptoms, after one year 47% of participants reported ongoing neck pain. 

To get an understanding of how that occurs, or why your neck pain might be hanging around. It’s important to consider the various factors that can affect your pain. The image above shows how various factors contribute to making pain better or worse. It is generally never really ever one thing that makes pain get worse or better.

With that all that considered – most musculoskeletal pain has a favourable natural history, getting better over time on its own. However, it is always helpful to get advice from a Physiotherapist to see what is contributing to your unique pain context. For more information on how to make neck pain better – check out our ‘how to relieve neck pain’ and ‘best neck pain’ exercises articles.