A stiff neck is typically characterized by soreness and difficulty moving the neck, especially when trying to turn the head to the side. A stiff neck may also be accompanied by a headache, neck pain, shoulder pain and/or arm pain, and cause the individual to turn the entire body as opposed to the neck when trying to look sideways or backward.
Stiff Neck Causes and Symptoms
The most common causes of a stiff neck include the following:
By far the most common cause of a stiff neck is a muscle strain or soft tissue sprain, and in particular the levator scapula muscle is susceptible to injury. Located at the back and side of the neck, the levator scapula muscle connects the cervical spine (the neck) with the shoulder.
The levator scapula muscle may be strained throughout the course of many common, everyday activities, such as:
- Sports injuries that strain the neck, such as a fall or sudden impact that pushed the head to the side
- Any activity that involves repeatedly turning the head from side to side, such as swimming the front crawl stroke
- Poor posture, such as slouching while viewing the computer monitor or looking downward at a mobile phone for prolonged periods
- Excessive stress, which can lead to tension in the neck
- Holding the neck in an abnormal position for a long period, such as cradling a phone between the neck and shoulder.
- Sleeping with the neck at an awkward position that strains the neck muscles