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Stiff Neck Symptoms

Stiff Neck Symptoms

Stiff neck limits the movement of the neck, and is accompanied by mild to severe pain on movement. Generally, stiff neck is caused by sleeping in an improper position, however, sometimes it may indicate an underlying illness like meningitis.
Priya Johnson
The stressful lifestyle of today is a major factor that causes stiff neck in scores of people. Generally, a painful condition that disappears within a few days, stiff neck is a condition caused due to tightening of damaged neck muscles. Wear and tear, whiplash, or sleeping in an improper position can result in muscle spasms in the neck.

The normal pattern of contraction and relaxation of neck muscles is disrupted, thus, when the person with damaged muscles goes off to sleep, the entire body begins to relax, the neck muscles begin to tighten, causing a stiff neck in the morning on awakening. Stiff neck pain can be quite mild for some people, however, for some, the neck pain can be horrendous.


Whiplash, that is the sudden movement of the neck during a certain physical activity, contact sport, or accident, etc., puts tremendous pressure on the neck muscles, causing them to stretch. Moreover, this unexpected twisting movement causes the fiber muscles to contract themselves. This contraction hampers blood flow in that affected area, thereby leading to severe pain, irritation, and eventually a sore neck. The muscles involved in stiff neck are called sternocleidomastoid muscles. This prominent muscle controls the flexing and rotating movement of the head. Damage or strain caused to these muscles will eventually lead to this condition.

Symptoms of certain illnesses like arthritis, cancer, fibromyalgia, slipped disc, undiagnosed cervical fracture, facet joint problem, etc., also include a stiff neck. Moreover, sleeping on a pillow causes one's head to be slightly elevated while sleeping, which might also lead to stiffness in the morning. Sitting in front of the computer for long hours without flexing the neck muscles can also result in this problem. Lying on the couch with the head on the arms, causing it to be at an elevated position can also cause a stiff neck. A stressful lifestyle also causes the neck muscles to tighten. Stress at home, work, social circle, etc., can erupt in the form of a stiff neck.

Symptoms of a Stiff Neck
  • Limited neck movement
  • Neck pain
  • Sudden muscle contractions in the affected area
  • Unable to sleep in a comfortable position
  • Severe pain radiating to shoulders and back
  • Pain associated with stiff neck, arm pain
  • Cervical muscle spasms
  • Red or white patch in the oral cavity
  • Swelling of jaws
  • Blocked sinuses
  • Pain in the upper teeth
  • Nose bleeding
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Numbness
Stiff necks are quite annoying, however, they can also be indicators of some malfunction in the body's systems. When sensitivity to light, fever, and sore throat occur together, they can be indicative of meningitis. Stiff neck along with upper abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting may indicate pancreatitis. Some people even complain of lymph gland swelling. This indicates the presence of a neck infection.

Thus, even though the symptoms may not seem deleterious, consulting the health care provider for treatment is a must if the pain persists beyond a week. Your health care provider will either ask you to carry out some neck stretches or may even suggest a few simple remedies to alleviate the pain. Application of hot or cold compress on the neck may also bring about pain relief. To prevent this condition from occurring in the future, make sure your pillow does not cause your head to rest in an elevated position. Do not use two to three pillows to rest your head on. Flex your muscles at frequent intervals while working for long hours in front of the computer.

Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.