What is stiff neck?

Stiff neck or neck pain is the common health condition that almost everyone has experienced once in their lives. There are many reasons such as injuries during sports, physical activities, work related tasks, resulting in strained neck muscles. Some health condition also is a common cause of neck pain. Rarely, neck pain can be a symptom of a more serious problem.

How common is stiff neck?

This health condition is extremely common. It can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of stiff neck?

The common symptoms of stiff neck are:

  • Pain that’s often worsened by holding your head in one place for long periods, such as when driving or working at a computer.
  • Muscle tightness and spasms.
  • Decreased ability to move your head.
  • Headache.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • Severe pain;
  • Persistent pain for several days without relief;
  • Spreading down arms or legs;
  • Is accompanied by headache, numbness, weakness or tingling.


What causes stiff neck?

Neck pain causes include:

  • Muscle tension and strains. Activities and poor posture in too many hours such as hunching over your computer, smartphone or even sleeping on a pillow that is too high or too flat.
  • Rear-end auto collisions often result in whiplash injury, which occurs when the head is jerked backward and then forward, straining the soft tissues of the neck.
  • Worn joints. Arthritis such as osteoarthritis causes the cushions (cartilage) between your bones (vertebrae) to deteriorate. Your body then forms bone spurs that affect joint motion and cause pain.
  • Nerve compression. Herniated disks or bone spurs in the vertebrae of your neck can press on the nerves branching out from the spinal cord.
  • Diseases. Certain diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, meningitis, the flu or stress can cause neck pain.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for stiff neck?

There are many risk factors for stiff neck, such as:

  • Just like the other joints in your body, your neck joints tend to wear down with age.
  • Bad habits. Working at a desk for too long without changing position or sleeping with your neck in a bad position.
  • Sudden injury, such as car accidents, sports.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is stiff neck diagnosed?

Your doctor will firstly take a medical history and do an exam. To a clearer examination, imaging tests might be taken place such as X-rays, CT scan, MRI.  Imaging studies are best used as an adjunct to a careful history and physical exam to determine the cause of your pain. In some cases, your doctor suspects your neck pain might be related to a pinched nerve, he or she might suggest an EMG. Blood tests can sometimes provide evidence of inflammatory or infectious conditions that might be causing or contributing to your neck pain.

How is stiff neck treated?

The most common types of mild to moderate neck pain usually respond well to self-care within two or three weeks. If neck pain persists, your doctor might recommend other treatments such as medicine (Steroid injections, tricyclic antidepressants, muscle relaxants, painkiller) physical therapy, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), traction therapy, and surgery.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage stiff neck?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with stiff neck:

  • Take OTC pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
  • Apply ice for the first few days. After that, apply heat with a heating pad, hot compress, or by taking a hot shower.
  • Home exercises. Exercise your neck every day.
  • Change your position often and have a good posture.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: January 4, 2017 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017