There is nothing worse than pain in the neck - as it doesn't just hurt, it can completely debilitate you. You're prevented from going about your daily routine, and in some cases, neck pain leads to brutal headaches that leave you miserable.
Why do I have neck pain, though? And why does my neck feel tight?
There are several reasons why you could be experiencing pain and tension in your neck, which we will talk about shortly. We will also provide some tips on how to get rid of neck pain and how you can prevent it from happening in the future. First and foremost, let's dive into the science behind neck pain.
Brief Introduction to Neck Pain
To adequately answer the question - why do I have neck pain - we need to quickly talk about the human neck muscles.
The neck is a complex region of the body - and it's essential for most of your daily functions, like driving your car to work or actually performing at your job. You use your neck without even realizing it - as it must support the human head as you sit or stand!
There are so many different muscles, ligaments, and other connective tissues found within the human neck. The levator scapula muscle, in particular, runs down the back and side of our necks, connecting the cervical spine to our shoulders. A muscle sprain or strain in this particular area can lead to a stiff neck. Strains and sprains in this particular muscle are usually caused by everyday activities - as you'll soon discover.
If you want to learn more about some of the most intricate muscle grounds in the neck, our article on the muscles on side of the neck is a great resource. Otherwise, let's get to the root of your question - why do I have neck pain?
Why Do I Have Neck Pain? 8 Potential Culprits of Your Stiffness & Discomfort
So, why do I have neck pain? What gives? Obviously, the answer is not one size fits all - and you'll want to use your best judgment when assessing potential causes.
Something as simple as sleeping in the wrong position can cause a stiff neck. But, the tricky part is distinguishing between something like a pinched nerve or something more serious. That's why when it comes to nailing down the root cause of your nagging neck pain and stiffness, identifying other accompanying symptoms is key. And we're here to help with that.
This guide will help you get a better idea of what could be causing your stiff neck. It will also help you decide whether you can treat your neck pain at home or if you should get it checked by a doctor. Let's start with one of the most common reasons why you may have neck pain - sleeping wrong!
Poor Posture or Overuse
If you didn't necessarily have any sort of trauma or another distinct injury - and you're experiencing neck pain - it's like the result of poor posture or an overuse injury that's simply caught up to you and finally began causing pain or stiffness.
Repeatedly moving your head from side to side in sports such as swimming, football, basketball, or other sports where you constantly must check your surroundings is an example of overuse that could lead to injury. Of course, there are ways to avoid this - like neck training - but we'll talk about that later on.
In terms of posture, most of us are guilty of suffering from poor neck posture. This is the result of staring down at your phone, cradling the phone between the neck and shoulder, or viewing a computer monitor for long hours. This issue - known as tech neck - is becoming more and more common as our world becomes increasingly digital.
To sum it all up, overuse of neck muscles or holding your head in an awkward position for long periods will cause muscle strain, which then leads to neck pain and a stiff neck. There are specific neck posture exercises you can do to lower your chances of a sprain or strain. Learn more in our guide on how to improve neck posture.
A whiplash injury is the most common neck-related injury. It occurs when your head is forced either forwards, backward, or sideways in a quick whipping motion. This causes your cervical spine, the ligaments, and the muscles around it to overstretch and get injured.
Contrary to popular belief, whiplash is not only caused by car crashes. It can happen in any situation where this trauma to the spinal cord occurs. For example, if you fall or get hit either due to physical abuse or close contact in sports such as football. Aside from neck pain and a stiff neck, whiplash can also cause other symptoms like:
- headaches starting at the base of the skull
- tenderness or pain in the shoulder, upper back, or arms
- tingling or numbness in the arms
- blurred vision
- ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- sleep disturbances
- difficulty concentrating
- memory problems
If your neck pain and stiff neck are accompanied by any of the symptoms above, seek immediate medical attention. The sooner you can get a doctor to provide medical advice on how to treat your whiplash, the better.
Aging is a common culprit of neck pain and stiff neck. We use our necks daily to carry our heads, look around, and absorb all kinds of impact. Contrary to what you may have previously thought, the head is pretty heavy!
Over the course of your life, this load will take a toll. It's only natural that once we reach a certain age, our neck joints and the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of these joints begin to wear down. This is essentially what osteoarthritis is—the everyday wear and tear of our joints.
Arthritis obviously results in neck stiffness and pain. But, it can cause other symptoms such as tenderness, loss of mobility, a grating sensation, bone spurs, and swelling.
Other forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, are caused by an autoimmune disorder rather than everyday wear and tear. Rheumatoid arthritis causes the same symptoms as osteoarthritis, except it can affect other parts of your body. The most common include your skin, eyes, lungs, heart, kidneys, salivary glands, nerve tissue, bone marrow, and blood vessels.
Cervical Spine Disorders
While arthritis affects the joints all over your body, cervical spine disorders directly affect the neck bones and the spongy discs between your vertebrae, joints, and other soft tissues. These disorders are caused by aging, stress, smoking, and other unhealthy lifestyle habits.
One of the main symptoms of a cervical spine disorder is neck pain and neck stiffness. These symptoms can also be accompanied by pain in the head, jaw, shoulders, arms, & legs, along with numbness, weakness, impaired coordination or balance, difficulty breathing, or loss of bowel and bladder control. These kinds of disorders need medical treatment and cannot be treated through simple home remedies.
Meningitis or Other Infections
Meningitis is a bacterial infection in the fluid membrane of our brain and spinal cord. It causes inflammation and stiffening of the neck muscles with a high fever, headache, and nausea. Seek immediate medical attention if you notice any of these symptoms, as you might have meningitis.
There are also two other rare but serious infections that could occur in the cervical spine and vertebral body. These are meningococcal diseases or vertebral osteomyelitides, and they also cause stiff neck symptoms. Cases of flu and other common viral infections also cause stiff neck or neck pain and are accompanied by fever, nausea, and sensitivity to light.
Although it is highly unlikely that your neck stiffness is caused by cancer, having a brain tumor around the cerebellum or on the cervical spine can cause severe neck pain and a stiff neck. But again, this is extremely rare.
This is why looking for other symptoms is so important - it will help you whittle away the possible causes, so you don't have to panic about a cancer diagnosis. With that said, it is still worth looking into.
Now That You Know Why You Have Neck Pain, What Should You Do About it?
You should now have a better understanding of your neck pain causes - and now, the question turns to treatment.
You usually never have to go to a doctor to get a stiff neck checked. This ailment usually lasts just a few days and goes away by itself. But if the pain and stiffness occur after a fall or an accident or a sports injury, seek medical care immediately. You should also visit the doctor if your experience neck pain alongside any of the symptoms listed below:
- lump in your neck
- swollen glands
- trouble swallowing or breathing
- pain that radiates down your arms or legs
- inability to move your arms or hands
- inability to touch your chin to your chest
- bladder or bowel dysfunction
How to Treat Neck Pain or Stiffness At Home
If you have minor pain around your neck muscles, these home remedies will help alleviate the pain:
- Apply an ice and heat pack on your neck alternately. Make sure to wrap the packs with a cloth or some linen so that you avoid burning yourself.
- Taking over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen also eases muscle pain.
- If you've been doing a lot of physical activity, your muscles might be overused. Try to take a few days off from any activity and resume when your muscle tension is gone. Go slow as you work your way back into your everyday activities.
- Exercise and stretch your neck.
- Practice good posture.
- Avoid putting your neck in awkward and unnatural positions.
- Move around and don’t sit or stand in one position for too long. This can cause fatigue which leads to poor posture.
- Get a massage.
- Replace your pillow with a memory foam pillow for better support.
How Can You Prevent Neck Pain in the Future?
The best way to prevent neck pain and stiffness is through neck stretching and strengthening exercises. Improving your neck's strength and flexibility improves your overall posture and range of motion. This is one of the main benefits of neck exercises - but, it also makes you less prone to neck-related injuries while reducing the stiffness of the neck!
The reason why so many people experience neck pain is that they tend to neglect training their necks. Our neck muscles are some of the most important in our body. And yet, very little of us care to strengthen them. If you want to avoid neck pain, stiffness, and neck-related injuries, you need to start neck training.
Strengthen & Mobilize Your Neck to Make Pain & Stiffness a Thing of the Past!
If you're looking to strengthen your neck, there is no better way to do it than to train with the world's #1 neck trainer—the Iron Neck. This is a neck training device originally made to reduce the risk of neck-related injuries in close-contact sports, where athletes are always getting their necks and heads hit and bent in abnormal ways.
But the Iron Neck is not just a neck-injury prevention tool, it is also incredibly effective for rehabilitation. Thousands of athletes and physical therapists around the world use the Iron Neck—and soon, you will understand why!
If the Iron Neck doesn't fit into your budget, no worries. You can still train your neck with the use of neck weight harnesses and resistance bands. You won't be able to do the same level of exercises with just these two, but they are still effective tools for neck strengthening.
Tips for Getting Started
Once you start training your neck you can say goodbye to stiff necks and neck pain for good. Head over to our site and grab your essentials to get started! Once you have your gear, how do you actually go about stretching and strengthening your neck for pain relief, though?
We have a great database of exercises to point you in the right direction. There are neck spasm exercises, neck toning exercises, exercises for a pinched nerve in the neck, neck flexibility exercises, and even neck slimming exercises.
The key is building a regimen based on your unique needs and staying consistent with it. You won't see neck training results overnight - but after a few weeks, months, or years, you'll see and feel the difference firsthand. Check out our articles on neck training or how to get a thicker neck for a more in-depth look at the process of building a bulletproof neck.
Why Do I Have Neck Pain? Wrapping Things Up
So, why do I have neck pain?
As you can see, there are many reasons why you may have neck pain - from poor posture and overuse to whiplash, to more serious conditions. The key to nailing down the root cause of your pain is looking for accompanying symptoms and using your best logic. A doctor's appointment is rarely necessary for acute, minor neck pain - but it won't hurt to make one if you're stressed and in desperate need of help.
Now, you can take the home remedies we've provided and nurse your neck better. And whether you're dealing with muscle strain or a pinched nerve, you can make acute or chronic neck pain a thing of the past by learning how to strengthen neck muscles in our blog!
And with Iron Neck, neck workouts at home are more convenient and powerful than ever before. Get your equipment today and jumpstart your journey to wellness.