In general, a stiff neck is defined by soreness and difficulty turning your neck, particularly when moving your head sideways. Sometimes it may be accompanied by other symptoms like headache, neck pain, and shoulder pain. A person with a stiff neck may have to turn his entire body in order to see the side or over their shoulder instead of just turning their head.
Almost all of us have experienced the discomfort and pain of a stiff neck, which may develop after waking up from a deep sleep or after participating in strenuous activities later in the day. In most cases, within a week, stiffness and pain generally go away on their own. However, the way in which a person deals with the symptoms of a stiff neck can influence their level of pain, recovery time, and their chances of returning to normal life.
Common Causes of Stiff Neck
In most cases, a stiff neck is caused by muscle strains or soft tissue sprains. Particularly, it is caused due to the damage of the levator scapulae, the muscle which is positioned at the back and side of your neck. The levator scapulae muscle attaches the cervical spine of the neck to the shoulder and is more susceptible to injury. This muscle group is generally controlled by the third (C3) and fourth (C4) cervical nerves.
Many common, everyday activities can strain the levator scapulae muscle, including:
- Your neck is positioned incorrectly while sleeping
- A sudden impact or fall that causes the head to push sideways, such as a sports injury
- An activity that involves the repetitive turning of the head side to side, like swimming the front crawl
- Watching your computer monitor with poor posture or keeping your eyes fixed on the bottom of your mobile phone for extended periods of time (often called “text neck”)
- Excessive anxiety or stress that leads to tension in the neck might also result in the stiff neck.
- Cradling a phone between your neck and shoulder for too long in an abnormal position
If the stiff neck begins immediately after falling, such as after a sporting event, the cause may be obvious. If a stiff neck develops out of nowhere, it becomes difficult to diagnose the exact cause.
Uncommon Causes of Stiff Neck
In some cases, neck stiffness can also result from some underlying disorders related to the cervical spine. There are several cervical spine conditions that can cause painful spasms or tighten the neck muscles, for example:
- Cervical herniated disc
- Cervical degenerative disc disease
- Cervical osteoarthritis
- Infection of neck muscles or bones
- Tumour in the neck
Symptoms of stiff neck
The intensity of stiff neck symptoms may range from mild discomfort to sharp, extreme pain. When you try to turn your stiff neck in a specific direction, you usually experience so much pain that you must cease the motion.
Reduced neck mobility can interfere with an individual’s ability to perform their daily activities. For instance, if you cannot turn your head in one direction without intense pain, you may probably need to avoid driving until the symptoms of pain and stiffness improve.
If a stiff neck does not improve even after a week, you should consult a spine doctor as soon as possible. No matter how long you have been suffering from a stiff neck, if it is accompanied by symptoms like fever, headache, nausea, or extreme tiredness, then you should consult a medical professional quickly before it becomes a chronic condition.
Treatment for a Stiff Neck
In the majority of cases, a stiff neck is a result of a simple muscle strain or sprain that heals within a few days on its own. In the meantime, you can follow one or more of the tips below to ease pain and help facilitate healing.
To reduce pain & discomfort, the doctor suggests taking anti-inflammatory medication.
Over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen, naproxen (NSAIDs) are also effective for neck stiffness and soreness and helps to reduce inflammation and pain.
Some other simple tips for managing a stiff neck and its symptoms include:
- Resting your body until it heals
- Applying heat packs or ice packs alternatively
- Stretching exercises to improve circulation & flexibility
- Warm baths or showers promote blood circulation
- Massage therapy in the affected areas
- In addition to stretching, low-impact aerobic exercise also relieves stiffness
Based on the individual and severity of the condition, specific combinations of these treatments may prove more effective in some cases than others.
How to Lower Risk for a Stiff Neck
A person can also make some simple lifestyle changes to prevent muscle stiffness. These include:
- Exercise regularly
- Warming up before and after workouts
- Muscle stretching
- While exercising, it is important to wear the right footwear
- When it’s cold, wear warm clothing
- Maintaining good posture
- Ensure that your home and office furniture is comfortable and supportive
- Avoid prolonged inactivity
However, if muscle stiffness is a symptom of a severe underlying condition, then the treatment plan varies depending on the cause. If you are experiencing any problems associated with your neck, consult Dr Surya Prakash, one of the best spine surgeons in Hyderabad. Call +91 9848024699 to book an appointment with the doctor.