It’s been going on for a while now: every morning you try to get out of bed and find that you cannot look down or are unable to physically move your neck from side to side. You feel acute pain in your head, neck, and shoulder area simultaneously, and nothing you do – apply hot compresses, take your ordinary painkillers, or do twisting and tilting exercises – seems to have any effect on your stiffness.
In your search for whatever is causing this pain, you may be tempted to attribute it to nothing else than a poor night’s sleep. Maybe your mattress is too soft, your pillow too high, the bed’s orientation incorrect, or your position during sleep not right. Maybe. At the same time, a stiff and aching neck that doesn’t seem to improve over time may be a symptom of many other problems that, if ignored, will continue to disrupt your daily life and even lead to long-term health disorders.
Possible Causes of a Stiff Neck
Stiffness and pain in the neck can arise as a result of damage or disorders of any structure in the neck. The most common are:
- Injury: An abrupt tilt of the head or the forced movement of the head and shoulders in opposite directions simultaneously may result in the irritation of the nerve root that, in turn, may cause pain, stiffness, weakness, or pins and needles in your neck and an electrical sensation down the arm.
- Pinched nerve: Whenever a nerve in your body is somehow injured or damaged due to compression, constriction, or overstretching (often a result of repetitive actions or poor posture), you may feel pain, numbness, or weakness along the path of the pinched nerve.
- Anxiety and stress: Worrying and stressing out have significant physical effects on the body. Whenever we perceive the possibility of a harmful event or threat to survival, whether real or imagined, the body’s automatic fight-or-flight response is triggered, with some of the immediate physical reactions including dilatation of blood vessels for muscles, flushing, muscle tension, acceleration of heart, inhibition of salivation, and others.
- Bad posture: Sitting for prolonged periods with bad posture (hunchback, rounded shoulder, head forward, etc.) may cause the chest and neck muscles to tighten and the upper back muscles to weaken and loosen. In time, bad posture can lead to a reduction in the normal movement of joints and serious disc degeneration problems, such as cervical degenerative disc disease and cervical herniated disc.
- Osteoarthritis: This form of arthritis featuring the degeneration and loss of cartilage in the joints as a result of wear and tear may affect the hands, knees, spine, and hips. Common symptoms include severe pain and stiffness in the affected joints, cracking and creaking, inflammation, and reduced range of motion.
- Muscle spasm: A sudden, involuntary contraction of a muscle or a group of muscles, most often caused by dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities, may lead to acute pain and stiffness in the neck.
- Tension headache: Any activity that forces the head and neck to remain in the same position for a prolonged period can trigger a tension headache, characterized by a dull pain in the scalp, temples, back of the neck, and sometimes shoulders. Other causes of tension headaches include alcohol and caffeine use, eye strain, dental problems, sinus infections, etc.
What You Can Do to Alleviate Neck Pain
Because neck stiffness and pain can be symptoms of several serious conditions, it may be a good idea to visit your primary care doctor and submit to an X-ray, a CT scan, or other imaging tests to reveal the source of your stiff neck. The treatment will largely depend on the problem you have, but initial treatment will probably include anti-inflammatory drugs, a cervical collar, and physical therapy.
If you want to speed up your recovery, there are certain at-home remedies you can try, such as: simple stretches to strengthen your neck muscles and restore flexibility in your neck, hot showers in the morning to reduce pain and muscle spasms, and posture exercises to help you sit correctly. Massage therapy or heat and cold therapy, both performed correctly by certified doctors of chiropractic, can do wonders for your neck and shoulder pain. Along with relieving the stress and tension from your muscles, receiving chiropractic treatments on a regular basis has many additional benefits, including:
- Improvement of posture and flexibility
- Increase in range of motion
- Decrease in blood pressure and heart rate
- Better relaxation
- Stress relief
- Improvement in sleep
Contact your local chiropractor’s office to discuss your neck problems and learn how you can manage pain and regain mobility using only safe and effective methods.
About the Author
Dr. Marc Browner is the Founder of iChiropractic and Wellness in Naples, Florida. A graduate of the University of Florida in 1991, he earned his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Life Chiropractic in 1995. In private practice since 1998, Dr. Browner is a member of the Florida Chiropractic Society, the Florida Chiropractic Association, and he attends continuing education seminars, classes, and workshops to remain abreast of the most current treatment methods and technological advances in the field.