What are the causes and remedies for a stiff neck?

Symptom Database

A stiff neck can be a real pain in the neck, quite literally. It can make it difficult to turn your head, causing discomfort and limiting your range of motion. Understanding the causes and remedies for a stiff neck can help provide relief and prevent future occurrences.

Causes of Stiff Neck

There are several factors that can contribute to a stiff neck:

  • Poor posture: Sitting or standing with improper posture can strain the muscles in your neck, leading to stiffness.
  • Sleeping position: Sleeping in an awkward position or using an unsupportive pillow can result in a stiff neck.
  • Overuse or strain: Activities that require repetitive neck movements or sudden jerking motions can cause muscle strain and stiffness.
  • Injury: Whiplash from a car accident or a sports-related injury can lead to a stiff neck.
  • Arthritis: Osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis can cause inflammation and stiffness in the neck joints.
  • Stress: Tension and stress can cause muscle tightness, including in the neck area.

Symptoms of Stiff Neck

A stiff neck is characterized by:

  • Pain and discomfort in the neck area
  • Difficulty moving the neck or turning the head
  • Tightness or muscle spasms in the neck
  • Headaches
  • Shoulder pain

Stiff Neck Relief Exercises

There are several exercises and stretches that can help relieve a stiff neck:

Neck Rotation

Slowly turn your head to the right, trying to bring your chin over your right shoulder. Hold for a few seconds, then repeat on the left side. Do this exercise 5-10 times on each side.

Neck Tilt

Tilt your head to the right, trying to bring your right ear towards your right shoulder. Hold for a few seconds, then repeat on the left side. Do this exercise 5-10 times on each side.

Neck Stretch

Place your right hand on top of your head and gently pull your head towards your right shoulder, feeling a stretch on the left side of your neck. Hold for a few seconds, then repeat on the other side. Do this exercise 5-10 times on each side.

Shoulder Rolls

Roll your shoulders forward in a circular motion, then roll them backward. Repeat this exercise 10-15 times to help relieve tension in the neck and shoulder area.

Stiff Neck Treatment

In addition to exercises, there are other remedies that can provide relief for a stiff neck:

Heat or Cold Therapy

Applying a heating pad or a warm towel to the neck can help relax the muscles and reduce stiffness. Alternatively, using an ice pack wrapped in a cloth can help reduce inflammation and numb the area.

Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers

Taking over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, can help reduce pain and inflammation associated with a stiff neck. However, it is important to follow the recommended dosage and consult a healthcare professional if the pain persists.


A gentle massage can help relax the muscles in the neck and provide relief from stiffness. You can use your fingertips to apply gentle pressure in circular motions or seek the help of a professional massage therapist.

Improved Posture

Practicing good posture can help prevent future occurrences of a stiff neck. Make sure to sit and stand with your shoulders back and your head aligned with your spine. Avoid slouching or hunching over.

Stiff Neck Remedies

Aside from exercises and treatments, there are some additional remedies that can help alleviate a stiff neck:

Stretching Breaks

If you spend long hours sitting at a desk or in front of a computer, take regular stretching breaks to prevent muscle stiffness. Stand up, stretch your arms, and gently move your neck from side to side.

Ergonomic Setup

Ensure that your workspace is ergonomically designed to support good posture. Use an adjustable chair and position your computer monitor at eye level to avoid straining your neck.

Stress Management

Since stress can contribute to muscle tension and stiffness, it is important to find healthy ways to manage stress. Engage in activities such as yoga, meditation, or deep breathing exercises to help relax your mind and body.


A stiff neck can be a temporary inconvenience or a recurring issue. By understanding the causes and remedies for a stiff neck, you can take proactive steps to prevent and alleviate the discomfort. Remember to practice good posture, perform regular neck exercises, and seek professional help if the pain persists. With the right approach, you can find relief and regain your neck’s mobility.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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