How Long Does a Stiff Neck Last & What to do for it?

A stiff neck is a condition where you experience difficulty or pain in your neck while moving your head. Your neck usually becomes sore in this condition. A stiff neck can be accompanied by some other problems such as headache and pain in shoulder and arm. You will not be able to move your neck freely and will have to move your entire body to look sideways.

How Long Does a Stiff Neck Last?

How Long Does a Stiff Neck Last?

A stiff neck is not a very severe medical condition and can be easily treated at home in most cases. The time required to recover from a stiff neck depends on the severity of the problem. It can take a few days to a few weeks for a person to completely recover from a stiff neck. A stiff neck usually does not interrupt too much with your daily activities but can be annoying.

What to do for Stiff Neck?

The severity of a stiff neck can range from a mild discomfort in neck to an intolerable and sharp pain in neck. Since, stiff neck is not a severe medical condition; you can wait for a couple of days to see if the pain eases off. You just need to give your neck a bit of time so that the damaged tissues can heal. In case of severe pain due to stiff neck, you can apply heat therapy or ice pad at home. You can also get medicines over the counter to suppress the pain temporarily. If the symptoms of a stiff neck persist for more than a week, you must get it checked by a doctor. In case if stiff neck is associated with other red flag symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, fever, headache etc… it is recommended to see your doctor immediately. Some people are tempted to wear cervical collar around neck to prevent motion, which is not recommended. Instead, you must follow your routine activities and do not restrict the movement of neck. However, you must avoid moving your head too much during the first couple of days.

Conservative Treatment for Stiff Neck

A stiff neck usually results due to strain or sprain in muscles of the neck. Thus, it can heal by itself without requiring any special treatment or medication. You can try some conservative treatment options to ease the stiff neck:


The most common reason for a stiff neck is an internal injury or damage to delicate tissues of neck. Thus, you must give it a rest for the first two days to allow the damaged tissues to heal. This does not means that you stop your routine activities but stay away from activities like swimming, participating in outdoor games etc… that requires extra twisting of neck. Once the muscles become hard enough in couple of days, you can get the neck moving actively.

Heat and/or Cold Therapy for Stiff Neck

Heat and Cold Therapy is also very helpful in relieving the stiff neck pain by reducing the local inflammation. Cold Therapy is more effect and thus highly recommended. You can apply ice pack on the affected area for the first two days to ease out the pain. Heat therapy help in getting intensifying the flow of blood to facilitate in better and quick recovery. You must try both heat and cold therapy to see the outcomes as they vary from person to person.

Medications for Treating Stiff Neck

There are many anti-inflammatory medications that can help you in quick recovery from a stiff neck. These medications include aspirin and ibuprofen, and can be obtained easily over the counter or without any prescription. Over dosage of these anti-inflammatory drugs can be harmful.

Injections for Stiff Neck

Cortisone injections can also be used to get faster relief from extreme pain in neck due to a stiff neck. However, it does not provide a permanent relief but a short term relief. Cortisone is often injected in combination with a local anesthesia. The anesthesia works as a temporary pain reliever while the cortisone acts slowly to offer a gradual but long lasting relief from pain.

Cortisone is actually a naturally occurring hormone that is released by the adrenal gland. The doctors inject this hormone directly at the particular location on the neck where inflammation is seen. Cortisone helps in reducing the swelling on your neck in case it is caused due to any strain. It also helps in getting rid of the inflammation by reducing the swelling and easing off the excess nerve pressure.

Cortisone injections are usually used as the last measure for the treatment of a stiff neck only when other treatment options such as medications, exercises etc fail to respond. As the steroid injection does not work as a long term treatment option, it is injected as a series of 2-3 shots.

Massage for Stiff Neck

There are some simple massages that you can try at home to get relief from pain due to a stiff neck. Some of the simple massages for relieving stiff neck that you can try are as follows:

  • Move your arms across your chest and place it on to your neck. Now move your hands gradually from the base of your head towards the edge of the shoulder. Repeat the same exercise with the other arm on the opposite shoulder. You can do this either in the sitting position or in the standing posture. This way you can recover faster from stiff neck.
  • In this second massage, you need to place your hand just at the base of your neck. Now, press your hand slowly over the spines massaging the muscles with your fingers.
  • You can also try massaging the sides or back of your neck by moving your hands downwards from the top of the neck towards the base. Make sure to press down your fingers while you move your hand downwards.

Exercises for Stiff Neck

There are some wonderful stretching exercises that can offer relief from neck stiffness. Some of the quicker ways to get relief from stiff neck are listed below:

Neck Retraction Exercise for Stiff Neck

This is the simplest movement for faster stiff neck relief where you need to take your head vertically backwards as much as you can and then bring it back to the normal position.

Head Drop Exercise for Stiff Neck

In this exercise for stiff neck, you need to move your head back such that your chin is facing up. Now gently bring your head back into normal position.

Neck Side Bend Exercise for Stiff Neck

Take any one hand and place the palm over your head. Now slowly move it sideways to rest the head on the respective shoulder touching your ear. Now, repeat the same on the other side of the other side as well.

Neck Rotation Exercise for Stiff Neck

Rotate your face such that the tip of your nose points along the shoulders. Now, rotate it back on the opposite side.

All the above stiff neck exercises need to be repeated a few times every day.

Yoga for Stiff Neck

Bitilasana (Cow Pose) and Marjariasana (Cat Pose) for Stiff Neck

Bitilasana (Cow Pose) and Marjariasana (Cat Pose) are an excellent Yoga posture for faster relief from stiff neck that strengthens the muscles of your neck and spine. Kneel down resting yourself on your hands and knees. Your complete body from the tip to the toe must be aligned in a straight line. Now you need to slowly move your head vertically upwards while you inhale and back downwards as you exhale. Repeat the same for 7-10 times.

Balasana (Child’s Pose) for Stiff Neck

Balasana (Child’s Pose) is very effective Yoga posture for not just stiff neck but also reducing anxiety, mental tension and stress. Rest your body on your knees and hands as in the previous posture. Now, sway your hips backwards to rest them on your legs and heels as you exhale. More your body forward extending the tips of your hands in front while you inhale. The complete cycle should take about 1 minute, spending equal time for inhaling and exhaling.

Balasana (Child's Pose) for Stiff Neck

Another Yoga Pose for Stiff Neck is Ear to Shoulder Pose

Ear to Shoulder Pose is probably the easiest of all the Yoga postures that helps in easing out the pain due to a stiff neck. You can perform this Yoga posture while standing as well as sitting but your head and spinal cord must be properly aligned. Take a deep breath and now move your head sideways until your ear touches the shoulder, exhaling all the air. As you move your head backwards towards the neutral position, take deep breadth again. Repeat the same while moving your head on the opposite side to touch the shoulder. Be very careful to move your head gradually without jerking your neck. You need to repeat the complete cycle for 8 to 10 times.

Viparita Karani (Legs Against the Wall Yoga Pose for Stiff Neck)

Viparita Karani (Legs Against the Wall Pose) yoga posture boosts circulation of blood in your head. This helps to quickly recover from any pain in your stiff neck and helping your mind to calm down. In this posture, you need to lie down on your back close to a free wall where you can rest your legs. Your body should be perpendicular to the wall with hips as close as possible to the wall and knees rolled back close to your chest. Now open your legs while exhaling out and resting legs against the wall. Inhale back as you roll back your legs down on your chest. Repeat the same cycle for 6-8 times.

Viparita Karani (Legs Against the Wall Yoga Pose for Stiff Neck)

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 22, 2019

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