Chest and neck pain rarely occur together. When they do, the most common cause is arthritis or injury. Chest pain is commonly caused by heart trouble, inflammation, or digestive problems. Neck pain is most often a result of sore or tight muscles. While neck pain is rarely serious, chest pain can be a symptom of a heart attack or another life-threatening condition, so it’s important to see a doctor right away.
A heart attack happens when a blood clot blocks blood flow to the heart. Chest and neck pain can be symptoms of a heart attack, though it’s more common for the pain to be localized in the chest and sometimes radiating out to the shoulder and arm. A heart attack can also cause shortness of breath, fainting, and nausea. Symptoms vary from person to person, but this is a life-threatening condition, and anyone with these symptoms should see a physician right away.
An angina is another common cardiac cause of chest pain. An angina happens when cholesterol plaques build up in the arteries that carry blood to the heart, narrowing these arteries. This can hinder blood flowing to the heart, which causes episodes of chest pain.
Problems with digestion can also cause chest pain. Heartburn, named because it causes a burning sensation behind the chestbone, occurs when stomach acid travels upward into the esophagus. Some digestive disorders can make swallowing difficult or painful, which can also result in chest pain. The muscles that move food down the esophagus can be uncoordinated in some of these disorders, which results in painful chest spasms as food moves through the esophagus.
Chest and neck pain can also be musculoskeletal in nature. Arthritis, caused by inflammation of the joints and spinal column, can cause pain in both the chest and neck. Arthritis in the back can pinch the nerves coming from the spinal cord. When too much pressure is placed on a nerve, pinching it, it can cause disruption in the nerve signaling, causing numbness, tingling, or pain. A pinched nerve in the back can travel to the chest, causing the pain to occur there. Injuries that affect the spinal cord also can result in chest and neck pain.
Neck pain is almost always musculoskeletal, caused by tight or sore muscles. Everyday activities such as bending over a book to study or having a computer monitor placed too low or high can cause neck pain after a length of time. Poor posture is another cause of neck pain.