pain in neck when swallowing

Pain in the neck when swallowing

Not many people know that there is a connection between swallowing and neck pain. It is very common to experience both neck pain and sore throat when you are not feeling well. 

Neck pains can also be caused by wrong sleeping positions, body movements, and injury. Since the neck and throat are close together, any illness or injury that affects one will likely affect the other as well. Both adults and children sometimes experience neck pain when swallowing. 

Read on to learn more about the connection between these two ailments, and how they can be treated. 

What is the connection between your neck and throat?

The neck contains many anatomical structures including 

  • the throat (pharynx)
  • the cervical spine
  • nerves
  • blood and lymphatic vessels
  • lymph nodes

The muscles, blood vessels, and lymphatic vessels of the neck overlap one another and surround the throat, which is a muscular tube that runs from the back of the mouth to the stomach. The throat also contains blood vessels, lymphatic vessels, and nerves. In addition, it includes the tonsils, esophagus (food pipe), trachea (windpipe), and epiglottis.

Both medical conditions and injuries that affect one of these structures can also affect nearby structures.

For example:

  • A bacterial infection that begins in the throat can invade the deeper tissues of the neck, causing neck pain or stiffness.
  • A tumor in the neck can irritate the throat while pressing on other nearby tissues, leading to neck pain.
  • An injury to the neck may strain muscles, causing neck pain and stiffness. If it affects the area of your throat, you may also experience some soreness.
  • Some viruses that affect the throat, such as Epstein-Barr, can also cause viral meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms can include a stiff neck.

What can cause pain in both my neck and throat?

Infections that cause pain in neck when swallowing

One of the most common causes of sore throat and neck pain is a bacterial or viral infection. Viral and bacterial infections that begin in the throat can lead to painful inflammation of the surrounding neck muscles. 

Infections also trigger the lymphatic system, which contains white blood cells that kill invading microbes. This system also collects toxins and other waste material from the body.

The lymph nodes filter and collect this waste, which is why people who are sick may develop swollen lymph nodes. Swollen lymph nodes can feel tender and also make the neck feel sore or stiff.

The most common infections are cold or flu, tonsillitis, strep throat, and mononucleosis.

Cold and flu

The common cold and the flu are two common types of viral infections that affect the respiratory system.

Both a cold and the flu can lead to sore throats and swollen, tender lymph nodes in the neck. People who have a common cold may experience:

  • body aches
  • coughing and sneezing
  • chest discomfort
  • mild fever

These symptoms also occur in people who have the flu. However, flu symptoms are usually more severe than the symptoms of a cold.

People who have the flu may also experience:

  • fever
  • headaches
  • chills
  • muscle weakness
  • body aches
  • fatigue
  • nausea or vomiting


Tonsillitis is the inflammation of the tonsils, which are oval-shaped mounds of soft tissue in the back of the throat.

Both viral and bacterial infections can lead to tonsillitis. Symptoms include fever, a sore throat, and swelling of the tonsils and lymph nodes in the neck.

Strep throat

Strep throat, also known as pharyngitis, occurs when the bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes infects the throat. People who have strep throat may experience the following symptoms:

  • sudden onset of a sore throat
  • painful swallowing
  • red, swollen tonsils
  • white spots, patches, or streaks of pus on the surface of the throat
  • red spots on the roof of the mouth
  • swollen, tender lymph nodes in the neck
  • fever
  • headaches
  • body aches
  • fatigue


It is a viral infection that is common among teenagers and young adults. The human herpesvirus 4, also known as the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), is the most common cause of mononucleosis. Other viruses that can cause mononucleosis to include:

  • HIV
  • hepatitis A, B, or C
  • cytomegalovirus (CMV)
  • toxoplasmosis
  • rubella
  • adenovirus

Below are some of the symptoms of mononucleosis

  • a sore throat
  • a fever
  • swollen lymph nodes in the neck and armpits
  • fatigue
  • headaches
  • body aches
  • muscle weakness
  • a red skin rash
  • swollen spleen or liver

Allergies can cause pain in neck when swallowing

They are a common cause of both sore throats and neck pain. Airborne allergens, such as pollen, pet dander, or mould, as well as food allergens, can cause a sore throat and severe neck pain. 

Allergies cause a dry, itchy throat and neck pain, as well as:

  • A stuffy nose
  • Sneezing or a runny nose
  • Watery or itchy eyes
  • Tingling in the mouth or throat
  • Swelling in the lips
  • hives
  • Coughing
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea 
  • Excessive fatigue

Symptoms will persist as long as the allergen is in the air, or you continue to eat the allergen, and only when the allergen is removed will the sore throat and neck pain disappear. 

However, your doctor or pharmacist may prescribe some medications for you that will help relieve or reduce the intensity of the pain on swallowing.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) can cause pain in neck when swallowing

Another cause of sore throat and neck pain is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or acid reflux. When food particles, fluids, or stomach acids travel up to the throat, it can cause both a sore throat and neck pain. 

Other GERD symptoms include:

  • Heartburn
  • The sensation of having a painful lump in your throat
  • Difficulty swallowing 
  • A hoarse voice when you try to speak
  • A dry cough

Treatment options for GERD include modifying your diet to include more lean meats, vegetables, and fruits. Acid reflux can also be controlled through weight loss and avoiding eating just before bed. Other treatments include the use of medications that your doctor may prescribe for you.

Tumors can cause pain in neck when swallowing

Did you know that a tumor could cause a sore throat and neck pain? An ongoing sore throat is one of the symptoms of a cancer of the neck or head. Other symptoms of a tumor are:

  • A sinus infection
  • Headaches 
  • Swelling in the jaw
  • Experiencing pain when swallowing
  • Lumping the head or neck
  • Tumoursumbness in the muscles of the face or neck

Tumors are very rare, and if you have a sore throat or neck pain, you most likely don’t have cancer.

How to treat pain in the neck when swallowing 

You can try the following treatments if you have some form of pain in the neck when swallowing (a mild sore throat and neck pain):

  • drinking plenty of fluids to stay hydrated
  • gargling warm water with salt
  • drinking warm tea with honey
  • eating soft foods, such as soups
  • using over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory or pain-relieving medications
  • applying a warm compress to the affected area to ease muscle pain
  • using a cold compress or an ice pack to reduce swelling
  • stretching the neck and shoulders to relieve muscle tension

The takeaway from this article

Both your neck and throat share a connection and if one is affected, it can also cause the other to feel some side effects. This is the main reason why you may feel pain in your neck when swallowing. If you want to know what you can eat when your throat hurts, check out this other article we published earlier: What to eat when your throat hurts


Michael Sarfo
Content Creator at Wapomu

Michael Sarfo is a graduate of the University of Ghana, Legon. He is a content creator for and a writer for Wapomu

Dr. Ehoneah Obed is a registered pharmacist and a member of the Pharmaceutical Society of Ghana. He has a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and has experience working in a Tertiary hospital as well as various community pharmacies. He is also a software engineer interested in healthcare technologies.

His love for helping others motivates him to create content on an array of topics mostly relating to the health of people and also software engineering content.

He is knowledgeable in digital marketing, content marketing, and a host of other skills that make him versatile enough to uplift any team he joins.

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