A stiff neck is typically characterized by soreness and difficulty moving the neck, especially when trying to turn the head to the side. A stiff neck may also be accompanied by a headache, neck pain, shoulder pain and/or arm pain, and cause the individual to turn the entire body as opposed to the neck when trying to look sideways or backwards.
Symptoms typically last for a couple of days or a week and may prompt neck pain that ranges from mildly painful but annoying to extremely painful and limiting. While there are a few instances in which neck stiffness is a sign of a serious medical condition, most episodes of acute neck stiffness or pain heal quickly due to the durable and recuperative nature of the cervical spine.
What Causes Stiff Neck Pain?
A Stiff Neck may be a result of:
- Injury: If you had an accident that caused your head to jerk around violently, you may have injured the muscles and perhaps the ligaments in your neck, which can lead to stiffness. Neck injuries may result from mishaps as wide-ranging as automobile accidents, a collision or hit sustained while playing contact sports, and falls.
- Osteoarthritis: This is a condition that results from wear and tear of your joints and often occurs with age. It can lead to stiffness and limited movement in various joints, including your neck.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: This autoimmune disorder affects your joints, and it can damage those in your neck. This damage can result in severe neck pain and stiffness, usually in the upper part of your neck.
- Pinched nerve: A pinched nerve may be due to arthritis, the narrowing of your spinal canal, or a herniated disk. If you have a pinched nerve, you may experience neck stiffness that sometimes radiates into your arms and maybe your legs.
- Emotional stress: When you’re under stress, your muscles can become tense. A stiff neck is often an early signal that you are feeling stressed.
- Fibromyalgia: This disorder is associated with painful, achy muscles and joints. Muscles may contract, resulting in a stiff neck.
- Muscle spasm: A muscle spasm occurs when your nerves send messages to your muscles that cause them to contract. A muscle spasm in your neck can result in a stiff neck.
- Meningitis: Meningitis is a serious, potentially life-threatening infection of the fluid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord. Along with fever and a headache, a stiff neck is a common symptom of meningitis.
- Other infections: In addition to fever, vomiting, and sensitivity to light, a stiff neck can be a sign of a simple viral infection, such as the flu
Dangers of Drugs for Stiff Neck Pain Treatment
Millions of Australians depend on anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve pain, but the drugs are among the most dangerous on the market. Aside from significantly increasing your heart risks (such as a two to fourfold increase in the risk of heart attacks, stroke or cardiovascular death), NSAIDs are linked to serious gastrointestinal risks like bleeding of the digestive tract, increased blood pressure and kidney problems. Remember, this applies not only to prescription medications like Celebrex but also to over-the-counter drugs like aspirin, Advil and Motrin.
It’s very difficult to find a drug-based method of pain relief that is not saddled with severe side effects. The FDA has even recently limited the amount of acetaminophen allowed in prescription products and added a boxed warning due to liver toxicity concerns. Acetaminophen is actually the leading cause of acute liver failure in the United States.
As for the opioid painkillers like OxyContin, they are among the most commonly abused prescription drugs and are a leading contributor to the rising rates of fatal prescription drug overdoses. Many become addicted after using them to treat conditions like back or neck pain.
But no matter what type of painkiller you choose, the bottom line to remember is that they do not come without risks! Unfortunately, if you visit your conventional doctor with severe neck pain, a long-term treatment plan will typically include a drug-combination approach, using anti-inflammatory drugs, anti-seizure medications, muscle relaxants and possibly other types of pain medication as well. In other words, the answer for pain relief is drugs, drugs and more drugs — each one raising your risk of suffering potentially lethal side effects.
Powerful drugs can numb your nervous system so the pain doesn’t register. While these approaches may be convenient, they can cause adverse effects and kidney or liver damage. Worse, they don’t correct the underlying cause of the headache.
How to Relieve Stiff Neck Pain Naturally:
- Take a load off. One of the simplest ways to relieve the stiffness in neck is to lie down and give your neck muscles a chance to recover. But don’t use a thick pillow that crimps your neck.
- Ice it. Ice effectively numbs pain and decreases inflammation. Put crushed ice in a plastic bag and cover the bag with a pillowcase (a terry towel is too thick to effectively transmit the cold). Apply the icepack to your stiff neck for 15 minutes at a time.
- Heat it up. Heat increases circulation and can be effective for easing stiff muscles. Use a wet towel or a hot water bottle, or stand in a hot shower. But don’t keep it up for too long. Too much heat can aggravate symptoms and cause more pain. You might even want to try following up your heat application with a few minutes of cold treatment.
- Relax. Emotional stress can trigger muscle tension. Pay attention to what stresses you: your drive to work, your rush to get dinner on the table each night, meetings with your boss, and so on. After you’ve identified your common stressors, think creatively about ways to reduce your stress. One way to manage stress is through relaxation techniques, such as progressive relaxation or abdominal breathing.
- To perform progressive relaxation, find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Sit or lie down and close your eyes. Then, starting with your head and neck and working down the entire body, consciously tighten, or tense, and then completely release the muscles in the area.
- Other relaxation techniques include yoga, and exercise. In addition, you may want to develop some of your own methods of relaxation, such as engaging in a hobby or listening to peaceful music. Do whatever works for you.
- Use massage. Massage can help ease tense muscles and give temporary relief, and it may help you sleep better. First, take a hot bath or shower to relax the muscles. Then, have your partner use oil or lotion and rub your neck and shoulders using the fingers to apply gentle pressure in small circular motions. Next, have your partner rub your neck and shoulders using firm pressure and long, downward strokes. Don’t forget the chest area. If you don’t have a willing partner, try rubbing your own neck and chest area with oil or lotion for 10 or 15 minutes.
- ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼ Chiropractic Care : Chiropractic works by opening stuck joints, returning movement to the spine, and removing any nerve impingement that might be happening. If a disc herniation is involved, chiropractic is a natural way to provide a long-term solution. Chiropractic gets to the source of the problem, not just addressing the symptoms but finding the area of dysfunction and returning it normal physiology—in other words, making the area work the way it’s supposed to. When function returns, pain goes away. But mind you, getting rid of pain is not the only name of the game as far as chiropractic is concerned; return to function is the real goal, because when function returns, pain goes away on its own. Pain is nothing more than a warning signal telling you when something is wrong. Shutting off the alarm instead of investigating what is causing the alarm to go off only sets you up for a recurring problem. Once found, the solution can then be applied.