Military Neck

What Veterans Need to Know About Military Neck

Do you find yourself constantly rubbing a sore, stiff neck? Do you wake up with neck pain and headaches? Have you noticed it's harder to turn your head fully to the side? If so, you may be suffering from a common condition known as "military neck."

Military neck is a term for chronic neck pain and stiffness caused by stress and strain to the cervical spine. It's especially common among service members and veterans due to the physical demands and postures required in military work. In this article, we'll explore what causes military neck, how to treat it, and how vets can seek disability benefits for this often debilitating condition.

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The Toll of Service on the Spine

From infantry to desk jobs, many aspects of military service can place immense strain on the neck and back. Marching and running with heavy gear, crouching or crawling in tight spaces, combat training, vibrations from vehicles or machinery, and even sitting at a desk or computer for long periods can all cause wear and tear on the cervical spine.

This strain can be compounded by sudden traumatic injuries from combat, falls, vehicle accidents or other incidents during service. Whiplash, vertebral fractures, ruptured discs and nerve damage can all cause chronic neck pain. The impact of heavy helmets and night vision goggles can also compress the spine over time.

In addition to the physical stress, mental and emotional factors like high stress levels, lack of sleep, and PTSD can cause tension and spasms in the neck and shoulder muscles. The strain of combat and the pressure of high-stakes missions can literally make you hunch your shoulders and tighten your neck without realizing it. Over months and years, this takes a serious toll.

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Why "Military Neck"?

The term "military neck" stemmed from the high prevalence of cervical spine problems among military populations compared to civilians. Some studies have found neck pain rates as high as 20-85% among service members, depending on the branch and occupation.

Essentially, it's an occupational hazard. The repetitive strain and awkward positions required by many military jobs simply make neck problems extremely common - so common it's earned its own nickname. The term is now also used in some civilian sectors prone to neck strain like law enforcement and elite athletics.

While "military neck" isn't a true medical diagnosis, it's a useful catch-all term for the chronic neck issues many vets face. The actual underlying conditions can range from muscle strain to pinched nerves to spinal degeneration.

Symptoms and Related Conditions

The primary symptoms of military neck include:

  • Persistent pain and stiffness in the neck and upper back
  • Reduced range of motion in the neck
  • Headaches, especially at the base of the skull
  • Pain, numbness or tingling radiating into the shoulders, arms or hands
  • Tight, knotted muscles in the neck and shoulders
  • Clicking, grinding or popping sounds with neck movement
  • Pain that worsens with holding the head in one position like driving or reading


If untreated, military neck can lead to complications like:

  • Cervical arthritis
  • Herniated or degenerative discs
  • Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal)
  • Radiculopathy (pinched nerves)
  • Chronic migraines
  • Difficulty sleeping due to pain
  • Reduced ability to exercise and stay physically fit

These conditions can be extremely painful and limiting. They can impact the ability to work, exercise, drive, sleep and perform basic daily tasks. Severe cases may require intensive treatment or even surgery. The constant pain and limitations can also take a serious toll on mental health, relationships and overall quality of life.

Treating Military Neck

If you're struggling with military neck symptoms, it's essential to get checked out by a doctor. They can diagnose the specific underlying condition and recommend a treatment plan. Common treatments include:

  • Physical therapy to stretch and strengthen neck muscles
  • Chiropractic care to improve spinal alignment and range of motion
  • Massage to relieve muscle tension
  • Anti-inflammatory medications to reduce pain and swelling
  • Cervical traction to decompress pinched nerves
  • Acupuncture to promote circulation and reduce pain signals
  • Dry needling to release tight muscle knots
  • Surgery in severe cases of stenosis, herniations or fractures


Your doctor may also recommend imaging tests like X-rays, CT scans or MRIs to get a clearer picture of your spinal alignment and check for issues like arthritis or disc problems. A nerve conduction study or electromyography (EMG) can test for nerve damage if you're having radiating symptoms in your arms or hands.


At home, you can manage symptoms with:

  • Applying heat or ice
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or naproxen
  • Gentle stretching and range of motion exercises
  • Improving your posture during daily activities
  • Using ergonomic aids like a supportive pillow or chair
  • Stress-relief practices like meditation or yoga
  • Staying active with low-impact exercises like walking or swimming


It's important to stay consistent with your treatment plan and any prescribed home exercises. Improving neck strength and flexibility takes time and regular practice. Be patient with the process and celebrate small victories in your pain levels and mobility.

VA Disability for Military Neck

If your neck problems began during or were caused by your military service, you may be eligible for VA disability benefits. Neck pain and related conditions can be rated anywhere from 10-100% disabling depending on the severity of limitation and pain. Factors like reduced range of motion, nerve impingement, incapacitating episodes and functional loss all impact the rating.

To receive benefits, you'll need to prove the condition is service-connected. This means showing it either arose during service or was caused by an in-service event, injury or illness. Relevant evidence could include:

  • Service medical records showing neck complaints or injuries
  • VA medical records linking the condition to service
  • Private medical opinions connecting the condition to military duties or events
  • Buddy statements confirming in-service neck trauma or strain
  • Documentation of physically demanding MOS duties over time


It's important to note that your neck condition doesn't have to be caused by a singular injury or traumatic event. It can also be service-connected if it developed gradually over time due to the wear and tear of your everyday military duties. However, this can be harder to prove, so it's essential to have strong medical evidence and opinions in your favor.


If you've already filed a claim and been denied, don't give up hope. Many neck pain claims are initially rejected due to lack of evidence or failure to show the service connection. However, you have the right to appeal the decision and strengthen your case with new and relevant evidence.

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You Fought For Your Country, Let Us Fight for You.

If you're a veteran struggling with military neck or other spine injury related conditions and your disability claim has been denied, don't lose hope. Appeals are common, and with the right support, you can successfully navigate the process to secure the benefits you deserve. At Veterans Disability Aid, our experienced team is dedicated to guiding you through every stage of the appeals journey. We understand the challenges you face and the importance of obtaining a fair disability rating that accurately reflects the impact of military neck on your daily life. You fought for your country, let us fight for you.

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