Neck pain is a prevalent problem. The Cleveland Clinic reports that one out of three adults experiences neck pain at least once every year. An aching or stiff neck can have many potential causes. Understanding the most common stiff neck causes can help you decide how to deal with neck pain. Read on to learn more about neck discomfort and to find out why you might want to see a chiropractor for a stiff neck.
What Causes a Stiff Neck?
A stiff neck can be caused by:
- Aging. The connective tissue that insulates your bones and joints can break down over time, and your joints and bones suffer wear and tear as you age. Together, these factors can put you at an increased risk of neck pain.
- Stress. Many people unknowingly tense their necks in response to stress. Constant muscle tension can exhaust the muscles and give rise to inflammation, resulting in pain and stiffness.
- Posture. Sitting in a slumped position can put a strain on your neck and cause stiffness and pain.
- Obesity. Carrying extra weight can put your body out of alignment, leading to a build-up of pressure in the neck area that causes pain.
- Infection. Severe, sudden neck pain and stiffness could be a sign of spinal meningitis.
- Injury. Neck stiffness and pain can occur due to an injury, such as a pinched nerve or muscle strain in the neck.
What Causes Neck Pain From Sleeping?
Many people develop a stiff neck from sleeping. Often, this is due to lying in a position that puts too much strain on the neck. If you wake up with a stiff neck only occasionally, you likely just slept in an unusual position. Frequent bouts of neck stiffness upon waking can indicate that you need a new pillow or mattress that will provide you with more support.
What Is a Pinched Nerve?
A pinched nerve in the neck occurs when the tissues surrounding a nerve in your neck exert too much pressure. When a nerve is pinched, signals can't travel freely across it. Symptoms of a pinched nerve include:
- Tingling or a feeling of pins and needles in your fingers or hand
- Sharp burning pain that radiates or moves rather than remaining localized
- Numbness in the neck
- Muscle weakness in the neck, shoulders, or arms that comes on suddenly
- Pain that worsens when you're sleeping
- Discomfort that is ongoing for a length of time
What Is Muscle Strain?
The muscles in your neck are designed to stretch in response to your movements. However, a sudden impact or a sharp movement could cause muscles to become stretched or overextended, leading to muscle strain. Symptoms of a muscle strain in the neck include:
- Dull, aching soreness
- Swelling, which may be mild to severe
- Weakness in the neck
- Feeling like there is a knot in your neck
- Tenderness in the affected area
- Pain that happens when you move
Is it a Neck Muscle Strain or Pinched Nerve?
To know for sure whether you're experiencing discomfort from a neck strain or pinched nerve, you need a diagnosis from a medical professional. However, some signs that pain is caused by one injury over the other include:
- Inflammation. Typically, swelling only occurs with a muscle strain.
- Location of pain. Pain that moves around is more likely caused by a pinched nerve than a muscle strain.
- When the pain occurs. Pain from a pinched nerve can happen at any time. With a muscle strain, you're more likely to experience pain when you move your neck.
- Duration of symptoms. A muscle strain will usually heal on its own within a few weeks. A pinched nerve will usually cause problems for much longer.
How Chiropractic Neck Adjustment Can Help
Visiting a chiropractor for neck pain is another way to get relief. An experienced chiropractor can assess your discomfort and perform imaging tests to determine the cause. Then, they can perform adjustments to correct spinal misalignment that can contribute to pain. If you're seeing a chiropractor for a pinched nerve in your neck, adjustments may relieve the pressure causing your symptoms. For a muscle strain, chiropractic care can help to ensure that your spine is realigned correctly following the injury.
Additional Options for Neck Pain Relief
Some general options for stiff neck relief include:
- Applying cold packs to lessen swelling
- Applying hot packs to increase blood flow
- Performing stretching exercises
- Resting your neck as much as possible
- Refraining from rigorous physical activities
For chronic neck pain, you can make the following lifestyle changes:
- Quitting smoking, as cigarette smoke may interfere with your immune system's ability to heal
- Losing weight to reduce pressure on your neck
- Improving your posture
- Practicing stress management techniques