A stiff neck can make it painful to move your head, and the shooting pain can also move down your back. Most commonly, neck stiffness occurs when there is injury to or overuse of the neck’s muscles, ligaments, tendons, and/or bones. There are times, however, when a stiff neck is associated with a serious health issue requiring medical treatment. Information about some of the causes of a stiff neck and how to treat a stiff neck are below.

Causes of a Stiff Neck 

In this current age of technology, it is not unusual for a person’s neck to become stiff as a result of looking down at a computer or mobile device. The angles the neck is positioned in are awkward and unnatural when looking at the screen of your laptop, phone, or tablet. Oftentimes, the result is neck strain. Sitting in a hunched position for long periods of time strains the soft tissues and muscles of the neck. The following are more causes of a stiff neck plus symptoms of osteoarthritis, meningitis, and whiplash are also below:

  • Clenching the jaw
  • Tension in the muscles due to stress
  • Poor posture
  • Repetitive neck movement
  • Spinal or neck injury
  • Sleeping in an awkward position
  • A sports injury
  • A fall 
  • Osteoarthritis / cervical spondylosis
  • Whiplash
  • Meningitis

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

Cervical spondylosis is a term that generally refers to wear and tear of the spinal discs in the neck. The age-related condition usually develops into osteoarthritis as a result of shrinkage and dehydration of the discs. Bony projections, also known as bone spurs, develop along the edges of the bones. Besides neck pain, the following are symptoms of cervical spondylosis or osteoarthritis:

  • Headaches
  • Balance problems, difficulty walking, or both
  • Weakness in the legs or arms
  • Numbness in the hands or arms

Symptoms of Whiplash

Whiplash is an injury to the ligaments, nerves, bones, and/or muscles in the neck. The following are symptoms of whiplash besides a stiff neck:

  • Headaches
  • Shoulder or back pain
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory loss
  • A burning or prickling sensation in the neck area

Symptoms of Meningitis

Meningitis occurs when there is inflammation of the meninges, which are coverings on the spinal cord and brain. It can be a serious condition. The cause may be a virus; but if the cause is bacteria or fungi, meningitis can be life-threatening. Besides neck stiffness, symptoms of meningitis include:

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  • Nausea
  • A sudden fever, usually accompanied by a stiff neck, headache, or both
  • Vomiting
  • Irritability, confusion, or both
  • Sensitivity to light
  • An inability to wake up from sleep

When to See a Doctor

Although neck stiffness is a common malady, you should see a doctor if the neck pain begins interfering in your regular daily activities. More reasons to seek medical care in connection with neck pain follow, and they could be signs of such conditions as a bulging disc, pinched nerve, or herniated disc:

  • The pain began after a car collision or an injury
  • There is weakness in your hands, arms, or legs
  • There is a headache as well as neck pain
  • Pain spreads down your legs or arms

How to Treat a Stiff Neck

The best answer to “how to treat a stiff neck” is determined by the cause of the discomfort. You may want to ask your doctor how to treat a stiff neck. However, for minor pain with neck stiffness, the following are some home treatments you can try.

Apply Ice 

You can get relief from swelling and inflammation in your neck by applying an ice pack on the affected area. The temporary numbing effect should relieve the pain. This treatment is typically most beneficial within 48 hours of a neck injury that has caused obvious swelling. If you don’t have a first-aid ice pack, protect yourself from frostbite by covering a bag of ice or a bag of frozen vegetables with a cloth before applying it to the area for 20 minutes max. Take about a half-hour break between applications of ice.

Apply Heat

Alternating ice and heat is a good way to treat muscle strain in the neck. For heat, use a heating pad. Soaking in a hot bath can also provide relief as tense muscles are relaxed.

Take Over-the-Counter NSAIDs

If ice and heat don’t provide sufficient relief from stiff neck pain, it could help to take ibuprofen or some other type of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID).  If you are taking other medications for a health condition, ask your doctor before taking NSAIDs.


Stretches are sometimes the quickest route to relief. The following are stretches you can try while in your car or at your desk, and they may also be useful for avoiding neck stiffness. How to treat a stiff neck with stretches:

  • Gently and slowly stretch the neck muscles by moving your head from side to side. 
  • Roll your shoulders forward ten times and then backward ten times. 
  • Lower your ear towards your shoulder ten times on both sides.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together ten times.

Try Homeopathic Oils and Herbs

The following oils and herbs can provide relief from a stiff neck. How to treat a stiff neck with homeopathic oils and herbs:

  • Apply camphor, which warms the area, increases blood circulation, and reduces swelling.
  • Gently apply capsaicin to the area. The anti-inflammatory properties in capsaicin should numb the nerve endings.
  • Mix peppermint oil with coconut oil and beeswax. Warm the mixture and apply it to your neck.
  • Apply menthol to sore neck muscles for a cooling effect that relieves pain.

Prevent a Stiff Neck

A stiff neck can be very painful and disruptive. Fortunately it’s possible to help prevent a stiff neck. Some prevention methods include sleeping on your side with a pillow that aligns your neck and spine, using good posture, creating an ergonomic environment at your desk, and getting rid of stress in healthy ways, such as exercise.

Prevention methods aren’t always successful. Remember the above remedies when discomfort causes you to wonder how to treat a stiff neck most effectively.