A stiff neck is evident by the fact that it hurts you to turn your neck from side to side. This issue is sometimes accompanied by arm pain, headache, shoulder pain and/or neck pain. When an individual has a stiff neck, the person turns the entire body when trying to look sideways or backward.
Causes of Stiff neck
There are different causes of stiff neck. However, the most common ones include:
- Muscle Sprain or Strain: Soft tissue sprain or muscle strain is the most common cause of stiff neck. In particular, the levator scapula muscle is the most susceptible to injury. They can be strained during daily routines like sleeping, sporting activities, poor sitting or standing posture, and excessive stress.
- Cervical spine disorders: Disorders like cervical spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, cervical degenerative disc disease, anatomical changes (e.g., bone spurs), cervical herniated disc or radiculopathy can cause the neck to stiff. It can be as a result of a reaction to an existing disorder in the cervical spine.
- Meningitis Infection: When an individual has a stiff neck alongside vomiting, high fever, sleepiness, headache, and other symptoms, he or she may be suffering from meningitis. Meningitis is a bacterial infection that can inflame the protective membranes of the spinal cord and brain. Meningococcal disease can also cause neck stiff.
Symptoms of Stiff Neck
The symptoms of stiff neck can last for some days or a week, prompting between mild and extreme neck pain. Although there are situations where stiff neck is a sign of severe medical condition, in most cases, the condition heals easily because of the recuperative and durable nature of the cervical spine. However, it is reasonable to see a doctor even if the symptoms are mild. This will aid the learning of neck strengthening and stretching exercises and also, improved ergonomics and posture. This will also minimize or prevent future episodes of stiff neck.
Treatment for a Stiff Neck
In most cases, stiff neck is as a result of a simple strain or sprain of the muscle and may be treated in a few days. However, when the neck stiffness persists for more than a week, or if the stiff neck occurs alongside other disturbing symptoms, it is advisable to seek medical attention. For an individual with a stiff neck caused by soft tissue injury or muscle strain, first aid treatment includes one or a combination of the following:
- Rest: One or two days rest will heal any injured tissue in the neck. However, the rest should be between one or two days because too much inactivity can weaken the muscle.
- Gentle Stretching: Stretching the neck gently as soon as tolerated is a good idea. This will ease the stiffness as well as restore the neck to its natural motion range. It is better to do this under the guidance of qualified health professionals like a physical therapist.
- Heat and Ice Packs: The use of ice packs (cold therapy) relieves stiff neck because it reduces local inflammation. Applying heat can also spur blood flow, fostering a better healing environment. Heat and ice packs may be alternately used.
- Medications: Over-the-counter and prescription medications can also be used in treating stiff and sore neck. The first line of treatment of stiff neck is NSAIDs because they reduce inflammation. Naproxen and ibuprofen are the most common type of NSAIDs prescribed.
- Low-Impact Aerobic Exercise: Along with stretching, low-impact aerobic exercises like walking can relieve any type of stiffness. Although walking does not have any direct effect on the neck, it aids the circulation of oxygen throughout the soft tissues of the spine, which in turn improve the condition of the neck.