Five Reasons You Have a Stiff Neck

You know the feeling. You turn your head and experience pain or soreness and/or a decreased range of motion. The pain can last a moment or show up literally every day. Neck pain is pretty common, too. The CDC reports that nearly one in five of us have experienced neck pain in the last three months.

In general, neck pain is usually caused by muscles weakening over time from misuse or environmental factors. Here are five of the most common reasons why your neck might be stiff, followed by an idea for a wonderful remedy.

1. You’re sleeping wrong. The culprit could be an old or ill-fitting pillow, or the way your body is positioned during sleep, or both. In general, sleeping on your stomach doesn’t help your sleep posture. It affects your lower back and neck because you’ll likely end up twisting your head one way or another throughout the night. Try sleeping only on your side or back.

2. You’re sitting incorrectly at work. You’ve probably heard this a million times, but looking downward at a computer monitor all day will cause muscles around the neck joints to tire, overstretch and weaken.  The same thing can happen if you drive for a living and look down at your smartphone a lot. First, don’t look at your smartphone while you’re driving (other drivers will thank you) and get an ergonomic evaluation at work. Your sitting posture is extremely important for more than just reducing a stiff neck.

3. You have an Injury. Many times neck pain is related to injury or trauma to the upper body. Sports injuries can resurface years after the actual event that caused them. So can injuries from car accidents or accidental falls. Always seek medical advice for treating injuries since they may involve the spine and nerves and other structures therein. And for goodness sakes, wear a helmet when you play sports, or ride anything with wheels.

4. You’re under a lot of stress. A body under stress, whether physical, psychological or emotional, can wreak havoc on bones, muscles, nerves and just about every other structure in your body. In the case of a stiff neck, stress causes you to hunch shoulders, or hold tightness in shoulder and neck muscles. It also can suppress the production of hormones that help you feel like staying active.

5. You talk on your phone too much. Holding your phone between your neck and shoulder can dramatically alter your posture and really stress muscles, tendons and ligaments in your upper back, neck and shoulders. So can constantly looking down to text. As mobile devices become more common, so does “device-related neck pain”. To avoid it, raise the phone to eye level to view it instead of looking down. Get a Bluetooth earbud and leave the phone in your pocket.

Releasing that stiff neck

One thing you can do to release stiff neck pain is to stretch. Stretching mainly involves you shoulders, because of the many muscles there that connect your upper body to your head and are involved in movement of the neck. Start by rolling your shoulders backwards and down (10x), squeezing your shoulder blades (10x), bringing your ear to your shoulder (10x) and pushing your head backwards into a car headrest or hands (hold for 30 seconds).  These stretches can do wonders to relax the muscles in the neck and shoulder region and calm your neck pain.

Another solution is to try heat or cold therapy. A warm, moist towel or moist heating pad (see your drug store) is a terrific solution that can calm things down immediately. For sharp pains, you can try ice packs. Whatever you do, apply for about 20 minutes at a time and never go to sleep with an icepack or heating pad turned on – you’ll run the risk of skin injury.

You can also take over-the counter pain relievers (like ibuprofen or acetaminophen) to mask the pain. Most people would rather correct the causes of the pain and seek more alternative remedies, though.

Another terrific solution and an effective alternative to medication is often massage. A qualified massage therapist will know just where to massage to give you virtually immediate relief. They’ll also show you some stretches you can use to maintain your range of motion and experience less pain in your daily life. Many neck pain sufferers schedule massage appointments weekly to keep the pain under control. And don’t forget the added benefits of massage, like decreasing your anxiety and stress, increasing blood circulation, and getting rid of “adhesions“.