What is a stiff neck?
A stiff neck is characterized by a blockage in neck movements to one side (right or left) and backwards.
Turning and tilting to the healthy side is possible and does not cause any pain in the neck.
Usually one wakes up in the morning with a stiff, blocked throat, but there were no symptoms the night before.
A stiff neck can occur along with head, neck and shoulder pain.
The sufferer must twist their entire body to face the painful side.
Symptoms generally last two to seven days and cause neck pain that can range from mildly uncomfortable to extremely painful and disabling. Extreme neck stiffness can sometimes be a sign of a serious illness, but in most cases patients quickly recover from acute neck pain and a stiff neck thanks to the good recovery capacity of the cervical spine.
- Congenital (born with) muscular torticollis : is caused by a shortening of the large head-turning muscle ( sternocleidomastoid muscle ), which causes the head to tilt to one side and rotate in the opposite direction. The treatment is surgical.
- Congenital bony torticollis : found in newborns and due to fusion of the atlas with the occipital bone, Klippel-Feil syndrome, or other bony anomalies. Treatment involves the use of a neck brace.
- Acquired torticollis : can be caused by inflammation (tuberculosis, rheumatism, abscess ), trauma, or tumor. Ocular wryneck also belongs to this category, where the neck posture changes when one eye is covered.
Neurogenic torticollis can be caused by cerebral hemorrhage or syringomyelia.
Apart from these serious types of torticollis, adults and especially children often suffer from this disorder due to muscle tension.
The most common causes of a stiff neck of a muscular nature:
- Muscle fatigue is one of the most common triggers of a stiff neck; basically it’s a strain or muscle spasm , specifically of the levator scapula.
It is located at the back of the neck and connects the cervical spine to the shoulder.
The levator scapula can become tight and strained in many everyday activities.
- During sleep, the muscles in the cervical spine can become overstretched.
- Sports accidents can cause a muscle strain in the neck .
- Habitual bad posture, such as sitting incorrectly in front of the computer.
- Excessive stress can lead to muscle tension in the neck and neck.
- When the neck is left in an unnatural position for a long time, for example when the phone is clamped between the head and shoulder.
- Sleep with air conditioning or fan.
- A pillow that is too high.
If a stiff neck occurs along with a high fever , headache , nausea , vomiting , sleepiness and enlarged lymph nodes , this can be a sign of meningitis , a bacterial infection that causes inflammation of the protective membranes of the brain and spinal cord. Other infections can also cause the symptoms of neck stiffness, such as meningococcal infection of the cervical spine. If the stiff neck is accompanied by fever, a doctor must be consulted immediately so that this can be ruled out.
Problems in the cervical spine can also cause neck stiffness. In this case it is a reaction to the complaints of the underlying spine . A herniated disc, for example, or osteoarthritis of the spine can cause a stiff neck.
Because the neural structures of the cervical spine are all interconnected, a problem in any one area can trigger muscle spasms and/or stiffness.
Stiff neck symptoms
Basically, a doctor’s visit is recommended if the symptoms of a stiff neck do not subside after a week. However, if the neck stiffness occurs as a result of trauma or in connection with other symptoms such as high fever, the emergency doctor should be alerted immediately.
All of us experience a stiff neck at least once in our lives; usually the causes are harmless and nothing to worry about. In most cases, no medical attention is required, and there are numerous remedies available to help relieve symptoms and neck recovery.
A stiff neck is often caused by stress and muscle tension in the neck area; The aim of the treatment is to relax the muscles and restore mobility to the cervical spine.
As a rule, the pain is very severe and occurs suddenly, but it is not felt when the patient is at rest and the tense muscles are not stretched.
Usually, a stiff neck does not cause swelling or redness .
Natural treatment methods
In most cases, a stiff neck is an acute disorder and resolves on its own in a few days without the need for treatment; chronic torticollis is extremely rare.
Protection and neck support
One way to relieve neck pain is to relax the muscles. A soft neck brace may be found helpful; it is available at any medical supply store or can be made at home; To do this, place a rolled-up towel in the shirt collar or directly around the neck so that the roll rests against the neck. At night, sleep on your side with a pillow for your head and a small pillow between your knees to support your spine .
One should sleep neither without nor with two pillows.
The neck must be rested until the pain subsides. This means that all activities that increase tension should be avoided. Don’t run, swim, or do any exercise that would add extra tension to your neck muscles. For example, golf is a sport that causes neck strains and puts undue stress on the neck; here it is better to take a break until the throat is healthy again.
Also, no heavy objects should be lifted, as this will severely tense the muscles and exacerbate the existing tension.
Heat and cold applications
If you have a stiff neck due to tight muscles, heat should be applied to speed up the body’s healing process.
A hot shower or hot water bottle on the back of the neck will help relax the muscles.
Massage and stretching exercises
A massage can help loosen tight muscles and reduce stiffness; however, it must be performed with extreme care, using gentle, almost stroking movements that focus only on relaxation and do not seek to loosen cramped muscles with kneading maneuvers.
Gently tilt your neck up, down, and to the side to stretch the muscles. Continuing to stress the neck muscles can make the problem worse, so don’t move the neck too quickly; in addition, all activities that contribute to worsening of the symptoms should be avoided.
Natural remedies can be of great benefit in treating tense muscles: herbs and oils such as: mint, thyme, calendula and yarrow are effective; the application of arnica or devil’s claw ointment can also be helpful.
To prepare therapeutic massage oil, a few drops of aromatherapy oil are warmed in a spoon along with olive, avocado, or grapeseed oil. The warm oil is then rubbed onto the tense muscles.
Neck pain usually doesn’t go away immediately after using the above measures, so painkillers like aspirin and ibuprofen can help.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as diclofenac (Voltaren) and pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Ben-u-ron) should relieve muscle pain .
You can attach an active ingredient plaster or apply an ointment or gel with ibuprofen (like Lasonil).
The drugs help the body to relax, and that’s important because when the pain is severe, it’s difficult to stay relaxed.
The McKenzie method has shown excellent results in treating a stiff neck.
The physiotherapist tries to rotate the neck in the blocked direction; the patient’s head first lies on a pillow, which is later removed.
A clear improvement can already be felt after the first session, after the second treatment the patient should already be completely healed.
Some physiotherapists apply kinesio tape to encourage muscle relaxation.
How can I prevent a stiff neck?
Anyone who regularly suffers from a stiff neck should examine their lifestyle and reduce the risk factors. Stress, incorrect posture , cold and wind can cause tension and neck pain. You should set aside time every day to relax and do things that are really fun, even if it’s just a few minutes. Avoid drafts and if it’s cold, a scarf can help keep your neck warm.
The neck and spine must be adequately supported at night to prevent stiffness and neck pain.
Poor posture can be improved with regular stretching and posture exercises. Many exercises can be done at your desk, on the bus, or while watching TV, a few minutes every hour. The neck needs to be held in the correct position, which may be difficult at first, but becomes normal over time and eventually becomes automatic. The computer screen must be at a height that allows the neck to be straight and relaxed. Avoid straining your neck, including holding the phone between your head and shoulder.
When a doctor’s visit is necessary
In some cases, a stiff neck is a symptom of another condition and could indicate a serious injury. If the pain doesn’t subside over the course of a week, it makes sense to see a doctor to find out if there is a serious cause for the pain.
After a car accident or other trauma, classic whiplash could occur, causing damage to the cervical vertebrae. An X-ray or other diagnostic method can bring clarity here in order to rule out a serious injury.
If there is no serious fracture, a neck tie is not recommended to relieve the symptoms.
It is not immediately a cause for concern if the situation does not improve in the shortest possible time, but if the pain and stiffness do not subside, another pathology could also be linked to the pain, which requires a thorough examination by the doctor.
If the pain worsens, spreads, or is accompanied by other symptoms, you may have a serious medical condition and seek immediate medical attention.
Symptoms such as headache, fatigue, fever, numbness, or confusion that occur along with neck stiffness can be symptoms of a condition such as meningitis.
Pain in the neck and arm can be associated with a heart attack, especially when accompanied by difficulty breathing , nausea, and profuse sweating . In this case, an ambulance must be alerted immediately.
How long does recovery take? The healing prognosis
If muscle tension is responsible for the stiff neck in the morning, it takes about 2 days or 48 hours to heal.
If there is a serious illness behind it, the healing times depend on when the treatment started.