How to deal with a stiff neck

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A stiff neck involves tenderness and difficulty moving the neck particularly when turning the head sideways. A stiff neck causes headache, pain in the neck, shoulder pain and arm pain. It causes the person to turn the entire body as opposed to the neck when turning sideways or backwards.

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What are the causes of stiff neck

  • Muscle strain or sprain of the soft tissue and the levator scapula muscle which is susceptible to injury.
  • Straining of the levator scapula with daily activities such as sleeping with the neck in an awkward position, slouching while working in a computer, excessive stress which can result to tension in the neck and holding the neck in an abnormal position such as cradling a phone between the neck and shoulders.
  • Cervical spine disorders such as cervical degenerative disc disease, cervical herniated disc and cervical osteoarthritis.
    Stiff neck
    Take the prescribed pain medications such as ibuprofen and naproxen to lessen the pain, inflammation and stiffness of the neck.

If the stiff neck occurs with headache, high fever, nausea or vomiting and sleepiness, there is a possibility for meningitis which requires medical help immediately.


  • Take plenty of rest at least for 2 days for fast healing and to help relieve the stiffness and spasm of the muscle. Limit rest to only 2 days since too much inactivity results to weakening of the muscles and there is difficulty in supporting the neck and head.
  • Perform gentle stretching with the help of a physical therapist to lessen the stiffness and restore the range of motion of the neck. Stretch the muscles in the front and back by tilting the chin toward the chest and then bring it upwards. Repeat this exercise for several minutes. Another alternative is to stretch the muscles in the sides of the neck by tilting the head toward the right shoulder and then toward the left shoulder. Continue this exercise until pain is lessened and tension of the muscle is reduced.
  • Apply moist heat on the neck since heat relaxes the tight muscles. Apply heat at the back of the neck area for at least 20 minutes at a time at 3 times every day. Another alternative is using a hot water bottle or taking a hot shower or bath.

Additional measures

  • Apply an ice pack to relieve the pain in the neck and minimize the accumulation of lactic acid which causes soreness. Use an ice pack and place it at the back of the neck at the hairline that feels stiff. Hold the pack for at least 10-15 minutes every 2 hours.
  • For acute pain, apply cold treatment in the first 48-72 hours and then switch to heat.
  • Take the prescribed pain medications such as ibuprofen and naproxen to lessen the pain, inflammation and stiffness of the neck.
  • Apply topical balms on the affected neck that contains menthol or other ingredients that relieves skin and muscles.
  • Aside from stretching, perform low-impact aerobic exercises such as walking to relieve any type of stiffness since it stimulates circulation of oxygen to the soft tissues throughout the spine and promotes fast healing of the condition.


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