BPS 27: What are the Causes and Treatment of a Stiff Neck?

Stiff neck rest results in soreness and difficulty in moving the neck. The pain generally occurs when trying to move the head to the side. It may also be accompanied with a neck pain, headache, arm pain, or shoulder pain. An individual may need to turn the entire body in order to look sideways in case of a stiff neck.

How a patient manages a stiff neck will determine the recovery period, pain level, and likely treatment of the condition.

What Causes a Stiff Neck?

Stiffness in the neck can occur due to many reasons. The most common reason for a stiff neck is a soft tissue sprain or a muscle strain. The levator scapulae muscle that connects the cervical spine with the shoulder controls the C3 and C4 cervical nerves. This muscle may become strained due to common activities such as:

  • -Sudden impact or fall that pushes the head to the sides
  • -Sleeping in an awkward position
  • -Turning the head to the side repeatedly when performing certain actions such as the front crawl stroke
  • -Slouching forward to look at the computer screen
  • -Excessive anxiety or stress can result in tension in the neck
  • -Holding the neck in a position that causes strain in the neck such as holding a neck between the shoulder and the neck

In case the symptoms start right away after an incident such as falling after a sporting event, the cause may be obvious. However, if the pain due to stiff neck appears suddenly, pinpointing the cause of the neck pain can be difficult.

A stiff neck can sometimes be due to an underlying medical disorder of the spine that supports and moves the neck. There are various disorders that can result in a stiff neck.

  • -Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease — Pressure on the nearby nerves, joints, and soft tissues such as muscles and ligaments increase as the disc lose hydration over time. This leads to a serious pain in the neck.
  • -Cervical Herniated Disc — The outer portion of the disc that protects the spine breaks down. This results in a leakage of the inner portion that causes inflammation and compression of tissues located nearby.
  • -Cervical osteoarthritis — The cervical facet joint located between the vertebral bones sometimes break down in arthritis. This condition may be accompanied by anatomical changes like bone spurs.

The above is not a complete list that can cause a stiff neck. There are other causes of a stiff neck such as tumor and an infection. A stiff neck pain can vary in intensity ranging from minor pain to extreme pain. Trying to turn a stiff neck to a side will result in extreme pain and discomfort.

In most cases, a stiff neck doesn’t require any treatment. Giving rest to the soft tissues of the neck can result in relief from pain. In cases when the pain is significant, the doctor may be given pain medications. Surgery may be required if the pain does not subside after six months of nonsurgical options.

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Robin BackPainExpert

Physiotherapists & Back Pain Expert

Twenty years ago I was lucky to survive a serious hockey injury. In a sport where big men zoomaround on hard ice and solid wood sticks are slung furiously, a difficult back injury is what every player fears.
It took a long time for me to climb back to a normal life. But when I did, I was determined to spend the rest of his life helping back pain victims everywhere.
As a physiotherapist and back pain expert I have treated thousands of patients over 20 years, built a respected back pain clinic, created the site BackPainSecrets.Com and authored the book “Back Pain Secrets.”
Learn more about me here.