Have you ever been in a situation where you have had such a stiff neck? It can happen so easily that you wake up and find you can’t move your neck properly or you’ve been working away at your computer only to find it is sore to move neck or shoulders. Maybe your neck creaks and crackles in the joints with movement and there is limited ability to turn your neck to one side or both.
Neck stiffness is very common medical condition. However, understanding what causes a stiff neck and how to fix a stiff neck is what most people want to know. The good news it can be a quick and easy resolution to your problem. That is what I aim to explain in today’s post. Neck stiffness is similar to a trapped nerve, but different at the same time. Below I will share the two most common causes, how to spot the difference between a sore throat and meningitis problem and some other hints, tips and 9 treatment tricks to help you unlock your neck again.
Table of Contents
Neck Pain Causes
I mentioned there are two common stiff neck causes. They are the same two major causes for a trapped nerve in the neck. This time I’m looking more at the joints and muscles rather than the nerve as a source of pain.
Here they are:
- Synovial meniscoid entrapment
The first common cause for pain in the neck is wear and tear of the joints and disc of the cervical spine. This is a type of arthritis called osteoarthritis which is very different from say rheumatoid arthritis. In this case wear and tear of the spine happens over a period of time. Most of us by the time we are over 50 years of age will have some degree of spine changes.
So age is a major reason for the arthritic changes to appear. However, this doesn’t mean you have to feel a neck ache or pain all the time. You can though have a sudden locking of your neck where the arthritis is occurring. You may also hear your chiropractor or doctor mention terms like spondylolysis, degenerative disc disease or bony spurs, these are all talking about osteoarthritis changes present.
Synovial Fold Entrapment Syndrome
Then for me personally the more interesting of the two common causes of a stiff neck is a trapped synovial fold in a facet joint of the cervical spine. This is also known as: acute locked neck, synovial fold entrapment syndrome, mensci entrapment, cervical intra-articular disc. The best term out of them all is synovial fold entrapment syndrome. This situation, I believe, explains why a stiff neck starts for most people I believe even the neck arthritis cases.
We have three types of synovial folds in our cervical spine. What is thought to happen is this piece of tissue can become stuck between the two opposing surfaces of joint cartilage in the neck called facet joints. These synovial folds have good blood supply and nerve endings for sensation. This is why it is thought if one of these folds gets trapped in your neck you can have a sudden neck pain.
Other Neck Pain Causes
Some other medical reasons for a stiff neck could be a sore throat or even meningitis.
A sore throat problem would be more obvious to spot. It could be sore to swallow, the uvula in the back of your throat feels swollen and looks red in the mirror when you open your mouth wide. You might see your tonsils and adenoids look inflamed and angry. All this inflammation can cause a stiff neck.
Meningitis on the other hand is a more worrying condition and needs to be taken seriously. I have attached a nice image below of the signs and symptoms of meningitis in adults from the Meningitis Trust website. They have a lot more good information on everything meningitis including how to do the glass test and how to know if your child or baby has meningitis.
Stiff Neck Treatment
At this point you now know the two most common mechanical causes and two other medical diseases of a stiff neck.
Now it is time to look at stiff neck remedies and how you can try cure your pain in the neck. Most of the tips here are the same as I use to help a trapped nerve in the neck.
- Get a Diagnosis
There can be other reasons for feeling a stiff neck which I haven’t mentioned above. A chiropractor or a medical doctor can help give you a diagnosis for your neck or shoulder ache so that you know where to begin from.
- Keep Your Neck Warm
When it comes to the “should I use hot or cold” debate I find for neck pain using a wheat bag warmed in the microwave, a hot water bottle covered in a towel, or one of those blue gel packs that can be used for hot or cold are great. You place the source of heat around your neck muscles when resting to help relieve the muscle spasm. I also recommend keeping a scarf on that day to not let your neck get cold.
- Change Your Posture
There is a bad posture we all tend to do called ‘anterior head carriage’. Prof Janda also termed this bad posture ‘upper crossed syndrome’. To fix this you need to do chin tuck neck exercises. Maybe also try a lumbar cushion in your car seat and office chair to improve your posture passively.
- Stretch The Right Muscles
The condition I mentioned, upper crossed syndrome, shows we have tight pec muscles in our chest and tight suboccipital muscles at the base of our skulls. Try stretch your chest muscles to open your chest, and to stop rolling your shoulders inwards. I like to do the chin tuck exercise then gently bring my chin to my chest keeping my chin tucked in with my hands on top of my head as a weight. Careful here, do this within comfort levels.
- Natural Pain-Killer Supplements
Some useful non-medication supplements to consider are eggshell membranes, serrapeptase and magnesium. These are looking to improve the joint surface, help breakdown scar tissue, relax muscle spasms and block pain receptors in the brain.
- Strong Medications
Your GP or doctor is the best person to consult on the variety of drugs available for neck pain. For chronic arthritis most people are on a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID). There are more powerful drugs to control pain like these neuropathic pain medications.
- Try Chill Out
Stress levels contribute to anxiety and muscle tension. They also lead to fatigue and burnout. Being stuck in an overactive mind state for a prolonged period is not good for your bones, muscles and nerves. I have seen patients get a sore neck around a time of intense emotion like anger or sadness. Try out mindfulness meditation to soothe your brain cells, drop your blood pressure and regulate your inflammation levels in your blood. This is fixing your pain by understanding the branch of medicine studying psychoneuroimmunology.
- Learn To Breath
We can either breathe properly using the diaphragm muscle or incorrectly with the ‘accessory breathing muscles’ like the scalenes, sternocleidomastoid, upper trapezius and levator scapulae. When you use the accessory muscles to breath, which we do 12-18 times per minute, you are placing stress on your neck. Imagine all that neck tension you could avoid just by learning how to breath properly.
- Strengthen Your Rotator Cuff
There is a major relationship between your neck and shoulder. I see loads of people who develop a problem I term scapulo-thoracic dysfunction. This is where you could have winging of your shoulder blade and a raised or dropped shoulder on one side. Maybe you have another diagnosis of shoulder impingement syndrome or a grade 1 or 2 rotator cuff tear. A weak shoulder means muscles attaching to your neck compensate to lift and control shoulder and arm movement. Doing some regular, simple shoulder exercises can take the pressure of your neck.