Stiff Neck: Is It Time to See a Doctor?

Medically Reviewed by NJ Spine & Orthopedic on July 23, 2023
Stiff neck symptoms often appear right after you wake up, since you’ve slept on your neck at an abnormal angle on the pillow for most of the night. As a result, the muscles in your neck will be tight or sometimes even spasm. In addition, your head may have a decreased range of motion, resulting in the inability to move your head in certain positions without causing pain or strain.
Sometimes stiff neck symptoms can be brought on by more severe causes than sleeping. That’s when you’ll need to see an orthopedic neck specialist. They will be able to diagnose the cause and recommend a course of treatment to relieve the symptoms of your stiff neck.

Understanding the Causes of a Stiff Neck

There are various muscles in your neck. Any of them could become stiff and not allow you to perform the movement that they are designed to do. If some of these muscles are stiff, you might feel tightness, a deep, achy pain, or both in various areas of your neck. This stiffness can also restrict the motion of the head, bending forward toward the chest or moving your head toward one of your shoulders. It can even cause headaches. 

One of the more common causes that can cause stiffness in this muscle is bad posture, as you hunch over with your shoulders rounded while sitting at your computer. This problem is relatively easy to fix by being conscious of correcting your posture while sitting and performing stretching exercises. However, what happens when this muscle becomes stiff because of more severe conditions?

When a Stiff Neck Is a Symptom of a More Serious Condition

Suppose your stiff neck is caused by a pinched nerve. The spinal column supplies the levator scapula muscle with nerves that allow this muscle to move as it should and feel sensations, like pain. 

If these nerves are pinched, this could cause a stiff neck. It is usual that pinched nerves that affect the neck result from cervical spinal conditions, such as herniated discs, spondylolisthesis, or cervical spinal osteoarthritis. All of these conditions can result in the irritation or pinching of nerves that can cause neck pain that needs treatment or is a more serious condition than just a stiff neck.  

How Can an Orthopedic Neck Specialist Diagnose the Cause of Your Stiff Neck?

If you have neck stiffness or pain that persists after a few weeks or numbness, tingling, or loss of feeling in your arm, you may want to consult an orthopedic neck specialist. They can perform physical exams and use diagnostic scanning tools to pinpoint the exact cause of your neck pain.

An orthopedic neck specialist will ask you to try and move your head in certain positions. For example, if you feel pain when you move your chin down to your chest or cannot bend your head close to the shoulders, this can indicate that nerves that supply the levator scapula muscle may be pinched.

Next, the orthopedic doctor will X-ray your spine to rule out any bone anomalies that may be touching or pinching the nerve. Finally, an MRI may confirm whether a herniated disc is the culprit.

Consult With the Orthopedic Neck Specialists at NJ Spine & Orthopedic

At NJ Spine & Orthopedic, our orthopedic neck specialists are leaders and educators among their peers within the orthopedic community. They are the leading experts in the latest treatments and surgical techniques in helping to relieve your symptoms caused by significant and urgent spinal conditions.

The orthopedic neck specialists at NJ Spine & Orthopedic can apply treatments or, if necessary, utilize minimally-invasive surgery to relieve your cervical spine symptoms. If your stiff neck persists or is accompanied by other symptoms, make an appointment with the neck specialists at NJ Spine & Orthopedic by calling (866) 553-0612 or completing our contact form. Our Concierge Team is also here to help streamline your treatments and reduce stress.

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