Neck Stiffness: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Home Remedies, Exercises

Neck Stiffness or Stiff Neck is quite a common condition and normally is quite a benign one, but this condition is definitely quite annoying and painful. The pain and stiffness generally becomes better over a period of a few days and is normally not a sign of a potentially serious neck disorder or any underlying condition. An individual can develop a painful neck or stiff neck can by sleeping in the wrong position or using a computer for extended periods of time.

Neck Stiffness

What Is Neck Stiffness?

Neck Stiffness can be characterized by pain, tenderness, and difficulty with any type of movement of the neck, especially when attempting to move it sideways. Neck Stiffness can also be at times accompanied by headaches, neck pain, pain radiating to the shoulders and arms. Symptoms of Neck Stiffness usually last for a few days or at maximum a week. There may be presence of an annoying neck discomfort and pain which can be mild to moderate. Majority of cases of Neck Stiffness are benign conditions and go away within a few days but there are some instances where Neck Stiffness can be a sign of a potentially more serious illness.

What Are The Causes Of Neck Stiffness?

The Following Are Some Of The Causes Of Stiff Neck:

Neck Stiffness Caused By Injury or Trauma: if an individual sustains an injury or trauma to the neck region, this may result in Neck Stiffness due to injuries to the ligaments and tendons in the cervical region. These injuries may be caused due to a motor vehicle collision jerking the head violently or while playing contact sports like soccer. Neck stiffness may also be caused due to a fall.

Neck Stiffness Due To Osteoarthritis: This is pathological condition which is caused with time due to overuse of the joints. This can cause stiffness and limited movement of the cervical spine.

Neck Stiffness Due To Rheumatoid Arthritis: This is an autoimmune medical condition which can also impair the joints in the neck causing excruciating neck pain and stiffness.

Pinched Nerve Causing Neck Stiffness: This is a medical condition in which a nerve gets compressed usually due to narrowing of the spinal canal. This narrowing may be caused due to disc herniation. If there is a pinched nerve causing Neck Stiffness then the stiffness may radiate to the arms as well as the legs.

Stressful Situations Causing Neck Stiffness: When an individual is under inordinate amount of stress, it causes the muscles in the body to become tense and stiff and Neck Stiffness is a definite sign of an underlying stress.

Fibromyalgia: This is a medical condition in which there is excruciating pain in the muscles and joints of the body. This is also one of the causes of Neck Stiffness.

Muscle Spasm: A muscle in the body tends to go into spasms due to involuntary contractions of the muscles. Such a spasm in the neck muscles may cause Neck Stiffness.

What Are The Symptoms Of Neck Stiffness?

As stated, Neck Stiffness may also be accompanied by headaches, severe neck pain radiating to the shoulder or arm, difficulty moving the neck sideways. These symptoms last for a few days to maximum a week. The neck pain experienced may range from mild to moderate in intensity and can be quite debilitating.

How Is Neck Stiffness Diagnosed?

Usually Neck Stiffness improves within a week but in cases if it does not improve and pain medications prove to be ineffective, then consultation with a primary care physician is advised. The physician will conduct a detailed examination of the neck to look for a cause for Neck Stiffness and rule out any potentially serious underlying condition. For this, the physician may order imaging studies like CT scan or an MRI to look at the cervical spine. The physician will also prescribe stronger pain medications depending on the level of pain the individual is experiencing. The physician may also refer the affected individual to a physical therapist for a few sessions to see if the stiffness improves. If still there is no improvement, then a referral to pain management will be made for injections to relieve pain.

What Are Treatments For Neck Stiffness?

The treatment for Neck Stiffness is dependent on the root cause of it and may include the following:

  • Use of NSAIDs like ibuprofen for pain relief
  • Use of a cervical collar to immobilize the neck and allowing the muscles to relax
  • Avoiding activities which can strain the neck even further like extended periods of sitting in front of the computer or playing contact sports
  • A referral to physical therapist for few sessions of physical therapy for symptom relief
  • Referral to pain management for injections if the above measures fail to relieve symptoms.

Home Remedies For Neck Stiffness

Some of the home remedies which an individual can perform to get rid of Neck Stiffness are as follows:

  • Doing simple stretches like moving the head up and down or sideways slowly can be of significant help
  • Massaging the neck gently is also very helpful
  • One should try and sleep on a firm mattress and if possible use a specially designed pillow for the neck readily available in the market
  • Using ice as soon as the symptoms of Neck Stiffness start is helpful in calming down the inflammation and then the individual can turn to heat wraps for further relief

Exercises To Relieve Neck Stiffness

Some of the exercises which an individual can do to relieve symptoms of neck Stiffness are:

Head Stretches for Stiff Neck: This exercise stretches the muscle which connects the skull base to upper back and shoulder blades. To do this exercise, place the right arm behind the back. Place the left hand on top of the head and slowly hold the right side of the head. With the left hand, now slowly pull the head towards the left shoulder. Maintain this position for about a minute. Now, do the same thing with the opposite hand.

Downward Head Stretches for Stiff Neck: This exercise loosens the muscles running between upper part of shoulder blades and the neck. To do this exercise, place the right hand behind the back at the waist. Put the left hand on top of the head. Now, turn the face towards the left armpit and slowly push the head towards the armpit. Maintain this position for about a minute. Now, do the same thing with the opposite hand.

Shoulder Pinch Stretches for Stiff Neck: This exercise is helpful in maintaining a good posture. To do this exercise, sit straight with the arms by the sides. Now, bend the elbows perpendicularly with the palms facing up. Position the arms such that the back of the palms are about a foot above the thighs. Try and pull the shoulder blades together and while doing this let the arms rotate outwards to the sides. Repeat this exercise about 15 times.

Also Read:

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:December 19, 2018

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