Stiff Neck Causes and Treatments

There are many stiff neck causes, and virtually all are treatable, except rigor mortis.  Good luck with that one.

A stiff neck upon waking up can be a sign that you slept awkwardly, maybe on a sofa, or on a new pillow or mattress. Unfortunately, it could also be a sign of a life-threatening infection around the spinal cord, but other symptoms like fever and headache usually accompany this.  Other causes of a stiff neck are car crashes, head-banging to music, sports accidents, tumor, looking down at books or cell phones for prolonged periods of time, or sitting at a computer all day.

If you have experienced a traumatic event, such as a motor vehicle accident, you should get x-rays to rule out fracture and dislocation.  A hospital ER is one place to get the x-rays; however, you can get them at most other medical or chiropractic clinics, often on a walk-in basis.

After x-ray pictures are studied, if there is a fracture or dislocation, you should see an orthopedic doctor to discuss the best options for resolving the problem.  If there is no fracture or dislocation, a doctor of chiropractic is the best course of action because they are specially trained to diagnose and treat spinal sprains and strains, like whiplash.  You may have stretched or torn ligaments, tendons, and nerves.  The Journal of Orthopaedic Medicine states that “Chiropractic is the only proven method for rehabilitating whiplash.”

The spinal discs between vertebrae may become bulged or ruptured during a trauma.  A bulging disc is not seen on x-ray, so if the doctor suspects a disc bulge based on other signs and symptoms, he or she should order an MRI.  A herniated/ruptured disc is also best seen on MRI.  In the case of herniation, the central portion of the disc, called the nucleus pulposus, breaks through the tough outer fibers of the disc to make a blob hanging outside the disc.  This can push on spinal nerve roots, causing not only neck pain, but also “shooting” symptoms like numbness, tingling, and weakness down the arms and hands.  Sometimes bulges cause more symptoms than herniations.  Both are generally problematic.

In the absence of trauma to the neck or head, you can usually proceed with treatment of the stiff and painful neck.  Ice, stretching, chiropractic and physical therapy are recommended.  

Sometimes, a stiff neck may have such tight muscles that they’re pulling your head to the side.  You can’t hold your head up straight.  This is called, Torticollis.  It happens quite often in new-born babies, too.  Being bent too much in the womb, and being pulled and twisted during delivery, the infant’s bones of the upper neck may become misaligned, causing muscle spasm and a tilt of the head to one side.  For children and adults, ice, massage, and chiropractic adjustments work well, along with prudent use of anti-inflammatory medicine, such as ibuprofen.  For infants with torticollis, time and gentle manipulation by a pediatric chiropractor normally work.  Keep in mind that pills reduce pain; chiropractic and physical therapy fix the problem.

To summarize, treatments of a stiff neck after you pinpoint the problem among the various stiff neck causes, make sure to use ice, massage, chiropractic, physical therapy, NSAIDS; and see a medical doctor if the problem persists, or if you have fever and headache, too.

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