A stiff neck is characterized as pain, soreness and difficulty turning the head. In some cases, it can also trigger headaches and arm or shoulder pain. Generally, a stiff neck is due to a muscle strain and settles in a few days with adequate rest and proper care. Nevertheless, it might also be an indication of an infection or significant damage to the spine. A doctor should be consulted so that an accurate diagnosis and treatment can be started.
A stiff neck from a muscle strain generally involves tightness or sprains in the levator scapula muscle. This muscles links from the upper 4 vertebrae of the cervical spine to the shoulder blade.
The causes of neck strain include sleeping in a poor position, stress, tension, poor posture, repetitive neck movements and sports. The application of cold or heat, over-the-counter pain medications, rest and massage are the commonly used remedies.
If there is tingling or numbness along with stiff neck, it might be an indication of a slipped disc. This injury involves displacement and rupture in the connective tissue pads amidst every vertebra.
In most cases, the treatment includes physical therapy, application of heat and pain medications, but sometimes surgery is required. Frequently, the discomfort caused by a slipped disc is due to the displaced nerves instead of the ruptured tissues.
Issues with the spine such as spinal stenosis, whiplash and osteoarthritis can also cause a stiff neck.
When it comes to whiplash, it occurs when the neck is driven forward and backwards abruptly during vehicular accidents or sudden traumatic events. The discomfort results from stretched joints and ligaments and the doctor usually prescribes pain medications, neck brace and physical therapy.
Spinal stenosis involves narrowing of the spinal column that places pressure on the nerves and generally linked with aging. As for osteoarthritis, it causes damage to the joint from aging, wear and tear.
If the individual has a headache, fever, sleepiness, confusion, vomiting and nausea along with stiff neck, it might be an indication of meningitis. The condition is characterized by inflammation and swelling in the membranes that surround the brain and spinal column.
A bacterial, viral or fungal infection might cause the condition which requires immediate medical care. The treatment includes antibiotics for bacterial infections along with supportive care such as intravenous fluids. In some instances, surgery is needed to prevent damage to the brain.