Stiff Neck: Causes, Treatment and More

stiff neck

A stiff neck can result from a number of factors as your neck is made of different muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones.

It occurs when one or more muscles of your neck become strained or tense.

Moreover, an injury to one or more vertebrae can also cause a stiff neck. A stiff neck can be painful when you try to move your neck or head.

Usually, it results from an injury or incident and you can effectively treat it at home.

However, in certain rare cases, it can be a sign of a serious medical condition that requires medical treatment.

The number of cases of stiff neck is rising due to the consistent use of mobile phones and computers.

This is because using them compels you to crane your neck in awkward angels.

In fact, one of the most common causes of a stiff neck is looking down at your mobile, laptop, or other devices.

This hunched position puts a strain on your neck muscles and soft tissues.

Causes of a Stiff Neck

According to CDC, more than 16% of women and more than 12% of men report some kind of pain in the neck and stiffness.

When you overuse your neck muscles, stretch too far, or put a strain on your muscles, then it can lead to a stiff neck.

stiff neckThis can even cause pain that ranges from mild to severe that can often make it difficult to move your head or using neck muscles.

The most common causes of a stiff neck include:

  • Minor Sprains, Stains, and Whiplash
  • Arthritis and Meningitis

Let’s discuss them as follows:

Minor Sprains, Stains, and Whiplash

A stiff neck can result from a minor injury or strain due to awkward sleeping positions, sitting or slouching for a long period of time, like on a desk, or looking at an object frequently.

Moreover, it can be due to sports injury, when you fall, or having tense muscles due to stress.

However, a severe neck injury can cause whiplash.

causes of a stiff neckYou might experience a whiplash during a car accident that causes your head to suddenly jerk forward and backward.

Whiplash injury can occur to your muscles, bones, ligaments, nerves of the neck, or to all parts of your neck.

It can cause pain and stiffness in your neck. Other symptoms are headache, dizziness, and back or shoulder pain.

It can also cause a sudden memory loss or trouble concentrating.

Arthritis and Meningitis

Arthritis of the neck or cervical spondylosis can also cause neck pain and stiffness when can improve when you lay down.

However, the pain can get worse if you stay in the same position for a long period of time, like driving or sitting in front of a computer or laptop.

Other symptoms of cervical spondylosis are headaches, numbness in your arms or hands, balance problems, or weakness in your arms or legs.

arthritis of neck

Your doctor can help diagnose this condition with the help of certain tests like an X-ray, MRI scan, and blood test.

Sometimes a stiff neck can be a symptom of Meningitis.

It is an inflammation of the meninges which are the coverings on your brain and spinal cord.

The presence of a foreign body like a bacteria, virus, or fungi can cause it.

Viral meningitis can get better on its own, however, bacterial or fungal meningitis can be life-threatening.

Symptoms of meningitis are a sudden fever, headaches, a stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light.

Moreover, you might also experience confusion, irritability, and inability to wake up from sleep.

Thus, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible if such symptoms appear.

Learn more about types of headaches here.

Other Causes of a Stiff Neck

In some cases, a stiff neck can be due to an underlying medical condition of the cervical spine that helps to support and move your neck in addition to protecting the spinal cord.

other causes of stiff neckDifferent cervical spine disorders can cause neck muscles to stiff or tighten and are as follows:

  1. Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease: As discs lose hydration and height over time, pressure on it increases, on the nearby joints, nerves, and soft tissues. This can result in neck pain and stiffness.
  2. Cervical Osteoarthritis: The arthritic breakdown of the cervical facet joints between vertebral bones occurs with other degenerative conditions like spinal stenosis and anatomical changes like bone spurs.
  3. Cervical Herniated Disc: When the protective outer portion of your discs in the cervical spine breakdown and the inner portions leak out it can cause compression and inflammation in the nearby tissues.

Treatment Options

The best way to treat a stiff neck depends on the cause of it.

If it is minor, then you can try certain home treatments like

Applying Ice

Using an ice pack can help relieve inflammation and swelling after a minor strain. It can have a numbing effect and can relieve pain temporarily.

This treatment is typically effective within 48 hours of the injury and you can use a first-aid ice pack or use frozen peas for at least 20 minutes.

Applying Heat

Alternatively, you can also apply heat to the strained muscle.

Using heating pads or taking a hot shower can help relax your muscles and relieve pain.

treatment options OTC, over-the-counter medications

If applying ice or heat is not relieving the pain, then you can take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, NSAIDs.

Examples include ibuprofen and naproxen.

These medications can help relieve pain and stiffness of the neck. However, if you are using other medications, then you should talk to your doctor before taking NSAIDs.


Stretching your neck muscles gently and slowly by moving your head from side to side can help.

For this, lean your shoulders forward and backward, however, you should stop if it causes pain.

Other Treatment Options

You can also use other treatment options like:

Checking your Sleep Environment

In some cases, your mattress can also cause a stiff neck if it is too firm or not supportive. Moreover, a pillow that is not of the correct size or too firm can also cause it.

Your neck, head, and back should be aligned while you sleep. The pillow you use should suit your sleeping position.

For side sleepers, a firm and large pillow work best, while for back sleepers, a flat pillow is helpful.


If you slouch, then it can gradually pull the neck muscles and cause stiffness ad pain.

postureYou should focus on keeping your shoulders, back, and neck in a straight line throughout the day.

Visit a Dentist

If you have a stiff neck along with headaches and jaw pain, then it could be a sign of nighttime teeth grinding.

Your dentist can check for the signs and symptoms like wear and tear of enamel, and may also look at the alignment of your jaw.

You can wear a nightguard to protect your teeth from damage and this can also alleviate the pressure on your jaws and neck muscles.

Preventive Measures

Some of the following preventive measures can help prevent a stiff neck.

These are as follows:

Use an earpiece to talk on the phone, avoiding holding your phone between your shoulders and ear to avoid a stiff neck.

When working on a laptop or using a cell phone, try not to look down on them.

Holding your device on the ey level and taking frequent breaks can help. Use proper ergonomics at work.

This includes keeping the screen of your laptop at the same level as your eye, keeping the flat screen on the floor, and making sure they are supported by arms.

preventive measuresMoreover, focus on keeping your head straight on the neck, without leaning forward.

Avoid carrying heavy handpieces or bags because they can put pressure on your shoulders and strain the muscles of your neck.

Instead, use rolling bags or backpacks whenever possible.

Take breaks when driving or sitting for long periods of time, invest in high-quality.

Regular exercise, the stress-relieving activist can help reduce stress and your overall well-being.

When to See a Doctor

If your neck pain interferes with your regular and daily life routine, then you visit your doctor.

Other reasons when you should seek medical care are a pain that starts after an injury it an accident if the pain spreads down to your arms or legs.

Moreover, if you have weakness in your arms, hands, or legs or headaches with a stiff neck, then it is a sign that you need medical attention.

These additional symptoms can be a potential sign of a more serious injury to the neck like herniated disc, pinched nerve, bulging disk, or arthritis.

Bottom Line

A stiff neck is commonly a result of awkward sleeping positions, poor posture, clenched jaw, stress, repetitive neck movement, osteoarthritis, or a neck or a spinal injury. Gentle stretching of the muscle strain or medications to reduce inflammation can help.

Different treatments like applying a cold or heat compress, using NSAIDs, limiting your screen times, taking breaks when you are driving or working for longer periods of time, creating an ergonomic workplace, managing your stress, stretching, or trying massage or acupuncture can help relieve pain and stiffness.

However, if any of the above does not help, it could be a sign of a serious medical injury and you will have to visit your doctor for proper diagnosis with the help of a computer monitor as if you do not get the treatment it can lead to other complications. Moreover, these treatment options are for educational purposes only and you should not try them at home.

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