Top 4 Causes of a Stiff Neck

Getting up out of bed with a stiff neck is not how most people envision starting their day. What’s worse is having to endure the pain for more than a few days. Generally, a stiff neck is not worrisome unless the pain persists or worsens. Still, even seemingly unproblematic cases of a stiff neck may affect your life, from your mood and sleeping patterns to your work performance and daily life.

A stiff neck can develop after sleeping in an awkward position or turning your head too fast. Sometimes, a stiff neck may be a warning sign of a more serious health issue. Find out what may be causing your stiff neck and how you can treat it below.

Why Is My Neck Stiff?

There’s no doubt that having a stiff neck is a major inconvenience. Whether it’s not being able to move your neck or having constant headaches, enduring a stiff neck is frustrating. This is especially true if you don’t know the cause. Usually, a stiff neck emerges from one of the four following reasons:

Muscle Injury

The neck is made up of 26 muscles, all used to stabilize the upper body and stimulate head movement and rotation. If any of these muscles is overstretched or exerted, microscopic tears can form in the muscle or the ligaments, tissues, and tendons that connect to it. This is what’s known as a muscle strain or sprain.

The levator scapulae muscle, located on the back and side of the neck, is the most common muscle in the neck to sustain damage. Everyday activities can strain this muscle, including repetitive activities, stress, poor posture, and insufficient support when sleeping.

Cervical Spine Disorders

The cervical spine is made up of about 7 vertebrae, 6 discs, 21 joints, 8 pairs of nerves, and as noted before, 26 muscles. A cervical spine disorder can compromise the function of the neck and result in severe pain that radiates down the arms, legs, and shoulders. Three cervical spine disorders that may cause a stiff neck include:

  • Herniated discs: When discs that make up the cervical region protrude or bugle
  • Cervical osteoarthritis: When cartilage and vertebrae excessively wear down
  • Cervical degenerative disc disease: When discs that make up the cervical region weaken


Although it’s rare, an infection may be the source of your stiff neck. If not treated promptly, infections can spread into the bloodstream, destabilize the spine, and affect the brain and its surrounding structures. Some of the most common infections in the neck are:

  • Meningitis: A bacterial, viral, or fungal infection that inflames the meninges, which line the brain and spinal cord
  • Vertebral osteomyelitis: A bone infection that can be caused by injury or an infection or bacteria in the blood
  • Deep neck infections: These can form an abscess in the neck after an infection in surrounding areas such as the throat, ears, or sinuses

In addition to a stiff neck, someone with an infection may feel tired, weak, or fatigued as their body tries to fight off the infection. They may also have a low appetite, low-grade fever, chills, and night sweats.


Arthritis of the neck, also known as cervical spondylosis or osteoarthritis, is a debilitating condition that can cause chronic neck pain and stiffness. Arthritis can lead to the narrowing of your spinal cord, which compresses and absorbs the natural lubricants that cushion each vertebra. When these cushions dry up, they become ineffective in supporting movement.

What Can I Do for a Stiff Neck?

Any one of the above conditions requires a medical examination. If you feel aches and pain in your neck for longer than a few weeks, it’s in your best interest to speak with a doctor about your symptoms. Depending on the diagnosis you receive, there are a number of treatment options that may help you. Typically, some of the most common and effective ways to treat a stiff neck include:

  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Alternate between thermotherapy and cryotherapy (hot and cold compresses)
  • Rest
  • Physical therapy
  • Stretches and light exercises
  • Change sleeping position or add support
  • Steroid injections

Making significant changes to your way of living may also help relieve a stiff neck. For instance, sitting at a desk all day puts pressure on your neck. It may be beneficial to carve out time for some stretching or walking. Or, it may be the case that you’re stressed and trying to juggle numerous responsibilities. Try giving yourself a break to relax and take in some fresh air. Some short and simple “me time” may significantly decrease stress on the neck.

Soothe a Stiff Neck at New Jersey Spine and Orthopedic

Do you have a stiff neck that just won’t go away? It may be time to pay a visit to the award-winning medical team at New Jersey Spine and Orthopedic. We have countless specialized treatment options that may help soothe your stiff neck. When you seek care from us, we’ll determine the root cause of your pain and clearly define a game plan that works best to resolve your pain.

At New Jersey Spine and Orthopedic, we bring together science, technology, and experience to provide each of our patients with the best possible medical care. We make it our mission to ensure you feel comfortable and that you receive high-quality, personalized care. To reach New Jersey Spine and Orthopedic today, call (866) 272-9271 or complete our contact form. We’re ready to help you whenever it’s convenient for you.

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