Causes of a stiff neck and how to treat it with medication and stretching

  • A stiff neck is common and often caused by stress, lack of sleep, and age.
  • To relieve a stiff neck, try stretching, changing your sleeping position, and applying heat.
  • If you have a fever or feel disoriented in addition to the stiff neck, see a doctor.

That slight pain that you experience with a stiff neck is usually caused by muscle tension or tension, which can often be treated by stretching the muscles or massaging the area. And while a stiff neck can be annoying, it will usually go away over time.

However, if you experience symptoms other than neck pain, such as a high fever, it may indicate a serious illness such as meningitis or spinal cord injury.

Here’s how to tell if your stiff neck is just a nuisance or something more serious.

Causes of stiff neck

Here are some examples of what can cause itchy, but relatively harmless neck pain:

These cases of neck pain usually become more common with age, as our bodies – including the bones in our spine – typically wears out over time.

“In our younger years, stiffness and pain are usually temporary and get better over time, along with heat and over-the-counter medications. Neck pain and stiffness, as we age, are often a sign of arthritis and may require further investigation. and the treatment ”, says Alpesh A. Patel, MD, MBA, co-director of the Northwestern Medicine Spine Center and professor of orthopedic surgery at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.


Serious medical conditions that cause neck stiffness:

  • Arthritis, swelling of one or more joints caused by general wear and tear, infection, or autoimmune disease
  • Herniated disc, which occurs when a spinal disc slips out of place due to aging or sudden strain from lifting heavy loads
  • Spinal cord injury, a condition where the spinal cord or nearby tissues and bones are damaged, usually caused by traffic accidents, falls, or gunshot wounds
  • Spinal stenosis, narrowing of spaces in the spinal canal which can be caused by tumors, spinal injuries and age.
  • Whiplash, a neck injury that may result from traffic accidents, physical assault or contact sports

How to treat a stiff neck

Related article module: This simple stretch helps neck pain caused by looking at your phone

According to Patrick F. Doherty, MD, assistant professor of clinical neurosurgery at the Yale School of Medicine, you can do the following to relieve mild neck discomfort:

  • Apply ice or heat: For the first two to three days, apply ice up to 20 minutes several times a day. On the following days, apply heat to the area by taking hot showers or using a hot compress.
  • Take over-the-counter medications: You can take ibuprofen or naproxen to relieve pain and inflammation.
  • Massage the neck: Gentle massage can reduce stiffness and relieve tension in the neck area. “Since most of the symptoms of neck stiffness are due to muscle tension, muscle massage is ideal,” Doherty says. You can do this yourself at home by massaging the painful areas.
  • Stretch the muscles: Slowly move your head up and down, then side to side, to exercise and stretch your neck muscles.

Stretches to relieve a stiff neck

  • Scapula levator stretch: Place your right hand behind your head and bring your chin to the left side of your chest. Repeat the stretch with your left hand, bringing your chin to the right side of your chest.
  • Upper trapezius stretch: Slowly tilt your right ear towards your right shoulder, then repeat the stretch on the other side. Keep your back straight and don’t move your shoulders.
  • Shoulder rolls: Maintain good posture and roll your shoulders back. Repeat the stretch forward.
  • Turtle stretch: Keep your back straight and without looking down, slowly bring your head forward. Hold the position for five seconds, then move your head back.

Repeat each stretch about 10 times before moving on to the next. If your neck pain persists or gets worse despite Several weeks home remedies, you need to consult the doctor. A stiff neck can be something serious and need immediate medical attention, especially if you experience pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness that spreads to your arms and hands, says Patel.

Symptoms that indicate you should see a doctor

  • High fever
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Coordination difficulties
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Unexplained fatigue

If any of these symptoms apply to you, see a doctor. You can have meningitis, inflammation or infection of the tissues around your brain and spinal cord, which requires emergency medical attention.

Takeaway from the insider

Most of the time, stiff neck is caused by muscle tension, poor sleep, or using electronic devices for long periods of time. You can usually treat it by applying ice or heat, stretching the muscles, or massaging the neck area.

If you experience any other symptoms besides severe neck pain, such as a high fever or numbness that spreads to the arms and hands, you should see a doctor immediately. Your stiff neck could be a symptom of something more serious, like spinal injury or meningitis.

Sleep in a new or awkward position can also cause stiff neck, Patel says. Sleep on your stomach requires you twist your head for long periods of time, so it’s best to sleep on your side or back instead.

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