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Stiff Neck – Symptoms, Causes, Remedies and Treatment

Written by Dr.Mary
IN THIS ARTICLE:

Many individuals have minor neck problems at some time in life. Normally body movements do not create any problems, but some symptoms can grow from everyday use, injury or overuse. Problems with the neck as well as injuries are common occurring because of recreational or sports activities, doing projects around the house, or work related responsibilities.


Pains in the neck usually have the sensation of a “kink”, severe pain or stiffness. This pain can extend to the upper back, shoulders and arms, or in some cases it can cause headaches. Movement in the neck can become very limited, normally more on one side instead of both. Pain in the neck denotes to pain somewhere in the area beginning at the base of the head into the shoulders. The neck comprises:

  • Cervical spine joints and muscles
  • Discs separating the vertebrae of cervical area as well as also absorbs any shocks as a person moves
  • Ligaments and muscles of the neck area which holds the spine of the cervical area together

Pain in the neck can develop because of any injury to any one or more of the above listed areas. Home treatment remedies will most of the time relieve pain in the neck caused by injuries which are minor.

Stiff Neck Symptoms

Necks which are stiff are very annoying, but they also can be gauges of some part of the body which is not functioning correctly. When combined with fever, light sensitivity, or sore throat, they may indicate meningitis. Stiff neck together with pain in the upper abdomen, vomiting and nausea can be an indication of pancreatitis. Some individuals may have swelling of the lymph gland. This is an indication of an infection of the neck. Also, if symptoms of a cold also involve a stiff neck as a symptom, see your primary care physician as soon as possible.

Symptoms include:

  • Neck movement which is limited
  • Pain in the neck
  • Muscle contractions in the affected area which are sudden
  • Not able to sleep in a position which is comfortable
  • Severe pain radiating back from the shoulders
  • Pain associated with arm pain and stiff neck
  • Spasm in the cervical muscle
  • White or red patches in the oral cavity
  • Jaws swelling
  • Sinuses which are blocked
  • Pain in upper teeth
  • Bleeding of the nose
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Numbness
  • Fever

Stiff Neck Causes

Whiplash which is the abrupt movement of the neck in the course of some type of contact sport, physical activity, or accident, etc. puts punishing stress on the muscles in the neck, triggering them to stretch. Additionally, this twisting and unexpected movement can cause the muscle fibers to contract. This type of contraction obstructs blood flowing in the area, thereby causing irritation, severe pain and ultimately a neck which is sore.

These neck muscles which are involved in a stiff neck are termed sternocleidomastoid muscles. This protuberant muscle manages the rotating and flexing movement of the head. Strain or damage caused to these muscles eventually leads to sore stiff neck complaint.

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Neck pain can frequently be caused by a spasm or a strain of the muscles of the neck or an inflammation of the joints in the neck. Below are listed examples of some activities that can cause this sort of injury which is minor:

  • Holding the head in an odd position or in forward leaning position while watching TV, reading or working.
  • Sleeping with a pillow which is too flat, too high, or does not support your head properly; or on your stomach with the neck bent or twisted.
  • Long stages of time spent with your forehead resting on your arm or upright fist – “thinker’s pose”
  • Stress – Any tension can make muscles running from back of the head crossways the shoulders in the back making it or the trapezius muscle, feel painful and tight
  • Exercise or work that uses your arms as well as the upper body

There can also been minor pain from a sudden or severe injury. Swelling and bruising can develop subsequently to the injury. These acute injuries can include:

  • Sprain or strain to the muscles or ligaments of the neck – In this case the individual may has stiffness and aches which spreads to the upper arm, upper back or shoulder. Shooting pain that can migrate down the arm to the fingers and hand is in some cases a symptom of a nerve that is pinches or a compressed nerve root. Shooting pain is even more serious if it happens in both arms or both hands rather than just one hand or one arm.
  • Dislocation or a fracture of spine – This type of spinal cord injury can lead to paralysis which is permanent. It is essential to immobilize as well as carry the person who is injured properly to reduce any risk of paralysis which is permanent.
  • Ruptured or torn disc – If this tear is big enough, jellylike matter which is in the disc can leak out – herniate – and press up against spinal cord or against a nerve (central disc herniation). The injuried individual can feel dizzy, develop a headache, or feel sick at the stomach, or have pain in the shoulder and down the arm.

There are other conditions that can cause neck pain or stiff neck. These are instances where it is the sign of something systemic. Meningitis which is an infection of the brain lining, is one example, and can be reasonably severe. These problems are not related to an injury and they include:

  • Arthritis
  • Meningitis
  • Flu
  • Heart attack
  • Tension and stress
  • Torticollis
  • Cancer
  • Fibromyalgia

Stiff Neck Treatment

Treatment of a stiff neck or injury can include:

  • Measures of first aid
  • Manipulative therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Medication
  • Surgery

Treatment is determined by:

  • Location, severity and type of injury
  • Age, health conditions and type of activities – for example sports, work or hobbies

Stiff Neck Remedies

  • Seek advice immediately from a physician for a stiff neck, especially when there is severe pain.
  • Place a hot water bag on the neck which is stiff once every hour until the stiffness disappears or lessens.
  • Use pain relief ointment. Get a prescription from the physician, if needed. Use the ointment on the area which is affected to warm the area up. This will help to facilitate easier movement.
  • Go in for treatment from a chiropractor if advised by a doctor
  • Get the shoulder and neck area massaged by a family member or by a qualified therapist
  • Take pain medication as a short-term relief from any neck pain. Make sure to talk to your physician about any side effects.

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