A stiff neck is characterized by neck pain, soreness, and difficulty moving the neck. Sometimes it is also accompanied by back, arm, chest, and shoulder pain. Everyone experiences getting a stiff neck at least once in their lives. But why does it happen?
There are several reasons why you could be experiencing neck stiffness which we will discuss later on. 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. So, without further ado—let us dive into the possible causes of your stiff, sore neck.
what can cause a stiff neck?
Something as simple as sleeping in the wrong position can cause a stiff neck. But, the tricky part is distinguishing between something like this or something more serious. The key part in identifying the cause of your neck pain and stiffness is identifying other accompanying symptoms. 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.
muscle strain or sprain
The neck is composed of different muscles, ligaments, and other connective tissues. 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 such as:
Sleeping in a poor posture or without proper support from a pillow.
Repeatedly moving your head side to side such as in swimming, or other sports where you constantly must check your surroundings
Staring down at your phone, cradling the phone between the neck and shoulder, or viewing a computer monitor for long hours. This is known as tech neck.
Stress, which causes tension knots in the neck.
To sum it all up, overuse 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.
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 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, 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 disease 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.
When Should You see a Doctor?
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 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 Do You Treat Neck 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 and Stiffness?
The best way to prevent neck pain and stiffness is through neck stretching and strengthening exercises. Improving your necks strength and flexibility improves your overall posture and range of motion. But, it also makes you less prone to neck-related injuries while and reducing 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.
Avoid Neck Pain & Stiffness When You Train With The Iron Neck
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. The Iron Neck 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, but 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. Once you start training your neck you can say goodbye to stiff necks and neck pain for good. Head over to the site and grab yours! Or, check out our complete guide on neck training for a brief on how to get started.