Stiff neck, neck, what to do, duration, exercises, symptoms, pain

What is a stiff neck?

A stiff neck is characterized by a blockage of neck movements to one side (right or left) and back.

It is possible to turn and tilt towards the healthy side and does not cause any pain in the neck.
You usually wake up in the morning with a stiff, blocked neck, but there were no symptoms the night before.
A stiff neck can occur with headache, neck, and shoulder pain.

The affected person has to turn the entire body to turn to the painful side.

In general, symptoms persist for two to seven days, causing neck pain that can range from mildly uncomfortable to extremely painful and restrictive. Extreme neck stiffness can be a sign of a serious illness, but in most cases, thanks to the good recovery of the cervical spine, patients quickly recover from acute neck pain and a stiff neck.


  • Congenital (congenital) muscular torticollis: is shortened by the large head turner muscle (Sternocleidomastoid muscle) causing the head to tilt to one side and turning in the opposite direction. The treatment is done surgically.
  • Congenital (congenital) osseous torticollis: is found in newborns and is caused by the fusion of the atlas with the occiput, the Klippel-Feil syndrome or other bone abnormalities. The treatment involves the use of a neck brace.
  • Acquired torticollis: can be caused by inflammation (tuberculosis, rheumatism, abscess), trauma or tumor. The ocular torticollis also belongs to this category, here the neck posture changes when an eye is covered.
    The 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 those common Trigger from a stiff neck; basically it is a strain or a muscle tension, in particular the shoulder blade lifting muscle.
    It is located at the back of the neck and connects the cervical spine to the shoulder.
    The shoulder blade lifter can be tensioned and pulled during many everyday activities.
  • The muscles of the cervical spine can be overstretched while sleeping.
  • Sports accidents can cause muscle strain on the neck.
  • Habitual improper posture, such as sitting incorrectly in front of the computer.
  • Excessive stress can cause muscle tension in the neck and neck.
  • If the neck remains in an unnatural position for a long time, e.g. when the phone is stuck between the head and shoulder.
  • cold.
  • Sleep with air conditioning or fan.
  • A pillow that is too high.

If a stiff neck occurs with high fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, drowsiness and enlarged lymph nodes, this can be a sign of meningitis (meningitis), i.e. a bacterial infection that causes inflammation of the protective membranes of brain and spinal cord. Other infections can also cause neck stiffness symptoms, such as meningococcal infection of the cervical spine. If the stiff neck is accompanied by fever, a doctor should be consulted immediately so that this can be excluded.

Problems with the cervical spine can also cause neck stiffness. In this case, it is a reaction to the complaints of the spine below. A herniated disc, for example, or spinal arthrosis can cause a stiff neck.
Because the nerve structures of the cervical spine are all interlinked, a problem in any area can trigger muscle spasms and / or stiffness.

Symptoms of a stiff neck

In general, a visit to the doctor is recommended if the symptoms of a stiff neck do not subside after a week. On the other hand, 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.
Each of us has a stiff neck at least once in our lives; usually the causes are harmless and no cause for concern. In most cases, no medical treatment is necessary, there are numerous remedies that help relieve the symptoms and recovery of the neck.
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 to restore mobility to the cervical spine.
As a rule, it is very severe and suddenly occurring pain, which, however, is not perceived in the resting position if the tense muscles are not stretched.
Usually a stiff neck does not cause swelling or redness.

Natural treatments

In most cases, a stiff neck is an acute disorder and heals on its own in a few days without the need for treatment; a chronic torticollis is extremely rare.

Protection and neck support

One way to relieve neck pain is to relax the muscles. A soft neck support can be helpful; it is available in every medical 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 lies against the neck. At night, you should sleep on your side, with a pillow for your head and a small pillow between your knees to support your spine.

You shouldn’t sleep without or with two pillows.

The neck must be spared until the pain subsides. This means that all tension-promoting activities must be avoided. Do not run, swim, or practice sports that would tense your neck muscles. For example, golf is a sport that causes neck strain and excessive stress on the neck; here it is better to take a break until the throat is healthy again.
Heavy objects should not be lifted either, as this tightens the muscles and exacerbates the existing tension.

Heating and cooling applications

In the case of a stiff neck due to tense muscles, heat should be applied to accelerate the body’s healing process.
A hot shower or hot water bottle on the neck will help relax the muscles.

Massage and stretching exercises

A massage can help to loosen tense muscles and reduce stiffness; however, it must be carried out extremely carefully with gentle, almost grazing movements that only focus on relaxation and do not want to loosen tense muscles with kneading maneuvers.
Gently tilt your neck up, down, and to the side to stretch the muscles. If the neck muscles continue to be stressed, the problem may worsen, so the neck must not be moved too quickly; in addition, all activities that contribute to the worsening of symptoms should be avoided.

medicinal plants

Natural remedies can be of great benefit in the treatment of tense muscles: herbs and oils such as: mint, thyme, calendula and yarrow are effective; The use of arnica or devil’s claw ointment can also be helpful.
To prepare therapeutic massage oil, a few drops of aromatherapy oil are heated in a spoon together with olive, avocado or grape seed oil. The warm oil is then applied to the tense muscles.


Neck pain usually does not go away immediately after using the measures above, so pain relievers such as aspirin and ibuprofen can help.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories like Diclofenac (Voltaren) and pain relievers like Paracetamol (Ben-u-ron) should relieve muscle pain.
You can apply an active ingredient plaster or apply an ointment or gel with ibuprofen (such as Lasonil).
The medications help the body to relax, and this is important because it is difficult to stay relaxed when the pain is severe.

McKenzie Method

McKenzie treatment for a stiff neck

The McKenzie method shows excellent results in the treatment of a stiff neck.
The physiotherapist tries to turn the neck in the blocked direction; the patient’s head initially lies on a pillow, later this is removed.
Already after the first session there is a noticeable improvement, after the second treatment the patient should already be completely healed.

Some physiotherapists apply kinesio tape to help relax the muscles.

How can I prevent a stiff neck?

If you regularly suffer from a stiff neck, you should examine your lifestyle and reduce the risk factors. Stress, incorrect posture, cold and wind can cause tension and neck pain. To relax and for Things that are really fun should be taken every day, if only for a few minutes. Avoid drafts and when it is cold, a scarf can help keep your neck warm.

Neck and spine must be adequately supported at night, which prevents stiffness and neck pain.

Poor posture can be improved through regular stretching exercises and postural gymnastics. Many exercises can be done at the desk, on the bus or while watching TV, every few minutes every hour. The neck has to be held in the correct position, which may be difficult at the beginning, but will become normal over time and eventually take place completely automatically. The computer screen must be at a height that allows the neck to stand straight and relaxed. Avoid overloading the neck, including holding the phone between the head and shoulder.

When to see a doctor

In some cases, a stiff neck is a symptom of another illness and could indicate a serious injury. If the pain does not subside over the course of a week, a visit to the doctor is useful to find out whether there is a serious cause for the pain.

After a car accident or other trauma, classic whiplash injury could be causing damage to the cervical vertebrae. An X-ray or other diagnostic procedure can clarify this to rule out a serious injury.

If there is no serious fracture, a neck tie is not recommended to relieve the discomfort.

It is not a cause for concern if the situation does not improve in the shortest possible time, but if pain and stiffness do not subside, another pathology could be linked to the pain, which requires a thorough examination by the doctor.

If the pain worsens, spreads, or is accompanied by other symptoms, there may be a serious illness and a doctor should be consulted immediately.
Symptoms such as headache, tiredness, fever, numbness, or confusion, along with neck stiffness, can be symptoms of a condition like meningitis.
Pain in the neck and arm can be caused by a heart attack, especially if it is accompanied by difficulty breathing, nausea, and excessive sweating. In this case, an emergency doctor must be alerted immediately.

How long does recovery take? The healing prognosis

If muscle tension is responsible for the stiff neck in the morning, the healing takes about 2 days or 48 hours.
If there is a serious illness, the healing times depend on when the treatment started.


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Christina Cherry
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