What Causes a Stiff Neck?
There are numerous factors that can contribute to discomfort in the upper back and neck. There are generally two categories that this condition will fall under: illness-related and muscular.
In this first circumstance, the front of the neck may be affected; the lymph glands may be swollen and painful to the touch. This is normally indicative of a general infection. The discomfort may radiate to various parts of the neck, as a swollen gland may press on the numerous nerves in the area. Additionally, there are rare occurrences where a serious illness such as meningitis can cause a profoundly painful and tender neck, especially when attempting to lower the head to the chest. In the case of meningitis, other indicators will be present such as sensitivity to light and a high fever. Should the stiffness be related to an illness, common symptoms may include a fever, a sore throat, generalized body aches and a lack of appetite.
So, some of the signs that a stiff neck may be caused by an illness or infection are:
- Swollen glands.
- A fever.
- A cough, cold or sore throat.
- Generalized body aches.
- In the case of meningitis, tenderness when lowering the head towards the chest and sensitivity to light accompanied by a severe fever.
Assuming that there is no illness present, physical causes can include a recent strain to the affected area caused by overexertion or a sudden, improper movement. Lower back injuries may also cause painful sensations to be felt in the neck. This is a condition known a sciatica and can become chronic. Sleeping habits may also contribute to this condition, as if one's neck and head are incorrectly placed upon a pillow, overnight strain can lead to stiffness during the following day. Even mental stress may cause a subconscious tightening of the muscles around the neck, shoulder and head.
Some of the most common physical causes for a stiff neck include:
- Strain and overexertion.
- Incorrect sleeping habits.
- Tension related to stress.
Stiff Neck Treatment Techniques
One of the problems with neck discomfort is that should it not be directly related to an illness or an acute injury, it is often difficult to determine the cause. Thus, most remedies include the direct treatment of the condition as opposed to ascertaining the root cause.
A physical therapist will generally be used and the process will begin with exercises designed to loosen the muscles in the affected area, thus reducing the overall tension. These can include massages, stretching techniques and decompressing the vertebrates to take the pressure off of any associated nerves. Naturally, should the discomfort have been caused by an injury, relief may take a considerably long time and can require months of therapy. However, chronic pains can usually be alleviated within a few sessions and should the muscles be more relaxed, the discomfort will be greatly reduced. After this initial phase, patients will be taught preventative techniques to help reduce the chances of the discomfort returning. These may be changes in sleeping or exercise habits and can also involve the correction of one's posture.
A brief overview of therapeutic options will include:
- Movements administered by a therapist to help loosen and relax the affected region.
- A decompression of the localized vertebrates, if necessary.
- Sports massages.
- Preventative techniques designed to help prevent the stiffness from returning.