Stiffness in the neck can arise as a result of disorders and diseases of any structure in the neck. The neck contains seven cervical vertebrae that are the bony building blocks of the spine in the neck; these vertebrae surround the spinal cord and canal. Between these vertebrae are discs, and nearby pass the nerves of the neck. Within the neck, other structures and organs include the neck muscles, arteries, veins, lymph glands, thyroid gland, parathyroid glands, esophagus, larynx, and trachea. Neck stiffness can be associated with symptoms such as
- shoulder pain, and
- stiffness in the shoulder.
Stiff neck is most commonly due to damage to the bones, nerves, and/or muscles of the neck. However, stiff neck is also a symptom of meningitis (along with headache and fever). Neck stiffness may also develop as a reaction and result of muscle spasm in various conditions that cause neck pain, including traumatic injuries.
Other causes of stiff neck
- Nerve Entrapment in Neck
- Poor Posture
- Virus Infection
Causes of Stiff Neck
Acanthamoeba is an amoeba that lives in dust, soil, and fresh, sea, and brackish water. Acanthamoeba keratitis causes eye pain, a sensation of something in the eye, and blurry vision. Acanthamoeba causes granulomatous encephalitis, leading to seizures, hallucinations, stiff neck, nausea, and vomiting. Diseeminated infection may also result from Acanthamoeba infection.
Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of arthritis that causes chronic inflammation of the spine. The tendency to develop ankylosing spondylitis is genetically inherited. Treatment incorporates medications, physical therapy, and exercise.
Arthritis (Joint Inflammation)
Arthritis is inflammation of one or more joints. When joints are inflamed they can develop stiffness, warmth, swelling, redness and pain. There are over 100 types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis, lupus, gout, and pseudogout.
Balamuthia mandrillarisis is an ameba that lives in dust and soil. Signs and symptoms of Balamuthia include fever, nausea and vomiting, light sensitivity, headache, stiff neck, and headaches. There are various diagnostic tests and medications that treat Balamuthia infection.
Brain Eating Amoeba (Naegleria fowleri)
Naegleria fowleri is an amoeba found in freshwater and soil. Infection results when the amoeba enters the nose and travels to the brain and spinal cord, causing primary amebic meningoencephalitis, which destroys brain tissue.
A broken bone is a fracture. There are different types of fractures, such as: compressed, open, stress, greenstick, spiral, vertebral compression, compound, and comminuted. Symptoms of a broken bone include pain at the site of injury, swelling, and bruising around the area of injury. Treatment of a fracture depends on the type and location of the injury.
Could a Stiff Neck Be a Sign of Something Serious?
Neck stiffness is a common issue that affects many people. Learn the signs of neck stiffness, what causes neck stiffness, how doctors diagnose neck stiffness, and how neck stiffness is treated.
Degenerative Disc Disease and Sciatica
Degenerative disc disease makes the disc more susceptible to herniation (rupture) which can lead to localized or radiating pain. The pain from degenerative disc or joint disease of the spine is usually treated conservatively with intermittent heat, rest, rehabilitative exercises and medications to relieve pain, muscle spasm and inflammation.
Diffuse Idiopathic Skeletal Hyperostosis
Diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH or Forestier's disease) is a form of degenerative arthritis. It is characterized by calcification along the sides of the vertebrae of the spine. Symptoms include stiffness and pain in the upper and lower back. Anti-inflammatory medications are used to treat DISH.
Encephalitis is a brain inflammation that causes sudden fever, vomiting, headache, light sensitivity, stiff neck and back, drowsiness, and irritability. Treatment may incorporate anticonvulsants and antiviral medications.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition characterized by symptoms such as fatigue, sleep disturbances, and tender points. Stress reduction, exercise, and medication are the standard treatments for fibromyalgia.
Fungal meningitis is a rare disease that is not contagious. Symptoms include fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea, and vomiting. Treatment involves administering high doses of antifungal medications.
A herniated disc may be caused by injury or degeneration from age. Symptoms depend on the location of the herniation and whether nerve tissue is being irritated. An MRI or CT scan is performed to diagnose a herniated disc. Treatment may involve physical therapy, cortisone injection, pain medications, anti-inflammatory medications, muscle relaxants, and surgery.
Is Meningitis Contagious?
Meningitis, inflammation of the meninges, symptoms and signs include neck stiffness, headache, and fever. There are five types of meningitis: viral, bacterial, fungal, parasitic, and noninfectious.
Meningitis is inflammation of the membranes that cover the spinal cord and brain. Symptoms include fever, headache, and a stiff neck. Treatment of meningitis depends upon the cause of the infection and may include antibiotics or antiviral medications.
Muscle spasms are involuntary muscle contractions that come on suddenly and are usually quite painful. Dehydration, doing strenuous exercise in a hot environment, prolonged muscle use, and certain diseases of the nervous system may cause muscle spasms. Symptoms and signs of a muscle spasm include an acute onset of pain and a possible bulge seen or felt beneath the skin where the muscle is located. Gently stretching the muscle usually resolves a muscle spasm.
Neck Pain and Dizziness
Neck pain is any degree of discomfort in the front or back of the neck between the head and the shoulders. Dizziness is characterized as either vertigo with disequilibrium or lightheadedness associated with feeling faint or the potential to lose consciousness. Causes of neck pain and dizziness vary, and treatment depends on the cause. With any unexplained or persisting neck pain or dizziness, consult with a health care professional, who can determine whether the symptoms are harmless and temporary or serious and threatening.
Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis caused by inflammation, breakdown, and eventual loss of cartilage in the joints. Also known as degenerative arthritis, osteoarthritis can be caused by aging, heredity, and injury from trauma or disease.
Polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) is a disorder of the muscles and joints that causes pain and stiffness in the arms, neck, shoulders, and buttocks. Treatment for polymyalgia rheumatica aims to reduce inflammation with aspirin, ibuprofen, and low doses of cortisone medications.
Rat Lungworm (Angiostrongylus cantonensis)
Rat lungworm (Angiostrongylus cantonensis) is a parasite that infects rats. The parasite can infect people if ingested by eating undercooked or raw infected snails or slugs. Though rat lungworm often causes no signs and symptoms, the parasite can cause eosinophlic meningitis in some. Stiff neck, headach, vomiting, nausea, and fever are symptoms of eosinophilic meningitis. Treatment is usually unnecessary. For more severe infections, treatment focuses on alleviating symptoms.
Relapsing polychondritis is an uncommon, chronic disorder of the cartilage that is characterized by recurrent episodes of inflammation of the cartilage of various tissues of the body. Tissues containing cartilage that can become inflamed include the ears, nose, joints, spine, and windpipe (trachea). Tissues that have a biochemical makeup similar to that of cartilage such as the eyes, heart, and blood vessels, can also be affected. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) is used as treatment for mild cases of the disease. Steroid-related medications also are usually required.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the joints, the tissue around the joints, as well as other organs in the body. Because it can affect multiple other organs of the body, rheumatoid arthritis is referred to as a systemic illness and is sometimes called rheumatoid disease. The 16 characteristic early RA signs and symptoms include the following. Anemia Both sides of the body affected (symmetric) Depression Fatigue Fever Joint deformity Joint pain Joint redness Joint stiffness Joint swelling Joint tenderness Joint warmth Limping Loss of joint function Loss of joint range of motion Many joints affected (polyarthritis)
Sciatica pain, caused by irritation of the sciatic nerve, typically radiates from the low back to behind the thigh to below the knee. Disc herniation is usually the cause of sciatica. Medication to alleviate pain, physical therapy, and bed rest are treatments for sciatica.
Sprains and Strains
An injury to a ligament is called a sprain, and an injury to muscle or tendon is called a strain. Sprains and strains may be caused by repetitive movements or a single stressful incident. Symptoms and signs include pain and swelling. Though treatment depends upon the extent and location of the injury, rest, ice, compression, and elevation are key elements of treatment.
Stress occurs when forces from the outside world impinge on the individual. Stress is a normal part of life. However, over-stress, can be harmful. There is now speculation, as well as some evidence, that points to the abnormal stress responses as being involved in causing various diseases or conditions.
Whiplash is a common injury to a person's neck following a car accident (in most cases). Symptoms include headache, neck pain, neck and shoulder stiffness, shoulder pain, fatigue, dizziness, jaw pain, arm pain, weakness of the arm(s), visual disturbances, and tinnitus. Diagnosis is generally with a physical exam, X-rays, or possibly an MRI. Treatment generally includes physical therapy and time.
Examples of Medications for Stiff Neck
- acetaminophen (Tylenol, Tylenol Arthritis Pain, Tylenol Ext, Little Fevers Children's Fever/Pain)
- aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid, Bayer, Ecotrin, and others)
- celecoxib (Celebrex)
- ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, Nuprin)
- naproxen (Aleve, Anaprox, Naprelan, Naprosyn)
- Nonsteroidal Antiinflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
- Over-the-Counter Products