What to do for a stiff neck? Causes a stiff neck

What to do for a stiff neck? Most people have experienced pain in the neck and difficulty in neck movements after waking up in the morning or later in the day, after doing hard work. Usually, the pain and stiffness go away by themselves within a week. However, knowing what to do with a stiff neck is important in terms of reducing both the recovery time and the pain felt by the person.

What is a stiff neck?

A stiff neck can be described as feeling pain and difficulty while moving the head in one direction. A stiff neck can sometimes be accompanied by headache, shoulder pain, and/or arm pain. After a stiff neck, the individual has to rotate their whole body to look sideways or over their shoulder.

The most common cause of stiff neck is muscle strain or soft tissue sprain. In particular, the levator scapula muscles are susceptible to injury. The levator scapula muscle connects the cervical spine of the neck with the shoulder located at the back and side of the neck. This muscle is controlled by the third and fourth cervical nerves (C3, C4). Neck stiffness may also occur due to cervical spine disorders caused by problems in these nerves.

What are the symptoms of a stiff neck?


When the neck is stuck, the person feels a pain that restricts his movement when he turns his head in a certain direction. This pain felt by the person may be a sharp, generalized, or spreading pain.

  • Sharp pain: In this pain, the person feels like a knife is being pierced from a single point. This pain is more common in the lower parts of the neck.
  • General pain: In this type of pain, there is a pain in one area of ​​the neck, not general.
  • Radiating pain: In this type of pain, pain is felt along a nerve that radiates from the neck to the shoulders and arms. Nerve pain is often felt as a burning sensation.
    Tingling, Numbness, or Weakness

A tingling sensation or numbness that spreads not only in the neck but also in the shoulder, arm, or finger is often felt in one arm.


Sometimes an irritation in the neck, muscles, or nerves attached to the head also affects the headache. This condition can lead to a tension headache that develops due to the stretching of the neck muscles. If neck stiffness and pain symptoms progress, it may also be difficult to sleep.

What to do for a stiff neck? Causes a stiff neck

What causes a stiff neck?

Levator scapular muscle is a muscle that connects the cervical spine of the neck with the shoulder, located at the back and side of the neck. This muscle is more sensitive than other muscles, and the most common cause of neck stiffness is sprains in this muscle.

Damage to these muscles can be caused by the following factors:

  • Neck being in an inverted position during sleep
  • After a fall or sudden blow that pushes the head to the side, such as sports injuries
  • After activities such as swimming where the head is repeatedly turned to one side
  • Sitting in a bad posture for a long time while looking at a computer monitor or cell phone
  • Experiencing excessive stress or anxiety, which can lead to muscle tension
  • Carrying something like a phone between the neck and the shoulder for a long time

The cause of neck stiffness may start suddenly during the day, rather than immediately after accidents such as sports injuries. In such cases, the cause may be more difficult to determine.

Apart from this, although not common, neck stiffness may have different reasons. These rarely observed cases may also develop as an underlying disorder that affects the cervical spine. Cervical spine disorders can develop due to osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, neck hernia, nerve compression, fibromyalgia, emotional stress. Meningitis and some infections can also cause neck pain.

How does a stiff neck go?

Since the stiff neck is a muscle sprain, the treatments applied in a normal muscle injury are also valid here.

Medication treatments

Working by reducing inflammation, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are typically the first treatment choice for stiff neck and pain. Common types of NSAIDs include ibuprofen and naproxen. Over-the-counter drugs have risks, possible side effects, and drug-drug interactions. Therefore, you should consult your pharmacist or doctor before taking any medication.

Depending on the severity of the neck stiffness, your physician may prescribe muscle relaxants. If the stiff neck is very serious and recurs frequently, your physician may apply the following treatments depending on the underlying causes:

  • Physical Therapy: Neck strengthening exercises determined by the FTR specialist can help relieve pain.
  • Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS): In this method, small electrical signals that alleviate pain are sent through the small electrode placed near the painful area.
  • Short-Term Immobilization: A short-term neck support (less than three hours at a time) can be provided with a soft collar that supports the neck.
  • Steroid Injections: Corticosteroid drugs that numb the muscles can be injected by doctors.
    Neck Stiffness Surgery: Surgical methods can be applied, although very rarely. It can be an option to relieve spinal cord compression.

What is good for a stiff neck?

There are several methods that you can apply yourself at home for neck stiffness. Some of these can be listed as follows:

  • Rest

Like any tissue, muscle tissue needs time to regenerate and heal. For this reason, it is necessary to rest for a few days for the damaged tissues to heal. Driving should be avoided, especially for the first two days, and normal physical activities that strain the neck should be postponed. However, the rest period should not exceed a few days as a muscle starts to weaken when not used much.

  • Applying cold or hot compresses:

The first 24-48 hours is the most severe pain in neck stiffness. Applying cold at this time helps to reduce inflammation, while hot compress supports blood flow and relaxes tense muscles. You can use both methods alternately, or you can determine which one works better for you by trial and error, as each person benefits more from different compresses.

  • To do light stretching movements:

With light stretching movements, neck stiffness can be reduced and the neck can be given more mobility. Learning the actions that can be done against this problem from a physiotherapist will be the best approach in this regard.

  • Doing light exercises:

Light-paced exercises that increase oxygen penetration, such as walking, will increase the recovery process of the muscles. In addition, the person should avoid heavy exercise during the recovery period.

How to reduce the risk of a stiff neck?

For a healthy posture, you need to get into the habit of sitting upright. You can prevent bending by increasing the height of the computer or screen in your workplace, and you can take regular breaks in jobs that require staying in the same position too much. Getting used to being healthy and upright at all times is a long but solid way to prevent pain. Apart from that, take care to keep your neck strong and flexible. When the muscles of the neck are strong and flexible, it supports a healthy posture and reduces the possibility of spasms.

When to consult a doctor because of a stiff neck?

Neck stiffness usually resolves spontaneously within a week. If your neck stiffness lasts longer than a week, you should consult a doctor if you experience frequent neck stiffness. In addition to this, in addition to neck stiffness, if symptoms such as headache, fever, vomiting, excessive sleepiness, nausea are observed, the person should immediately apply to the nearest health institution. Physical therapy or neurologists are the doctors to be consulted for the diagnosis and treatment of a stiff neck.

We wish you healthy days…

Physiotherapy treatment for stiff neck


(Performed while sitting or standing upright)

A) Resistance to flexion:  Put the hands on the forehead, try to be prevented with the hands while trying to push the head forward, count up to 10, and let go. It is repeated 3 times.

B) Resistance to extension:  Hands are placed on the back of the head (not on the neck) and the hands are tried to be prevented while trying to push the head backward. It is counted up to 10 and released. It is repeated 3 times.

C) Resistance to bending sideways: The right hand is placed on the right side of the face and the right hand is tried to be prevented while the head is pushed to the right, counted up to 10 and left. It is repeated 3 times. The same movement is repeated with the left hand to the left.

D) Resistance to rotation: Place the right hand on the back of the right head, left hand on the left temple. The head is forced to turn right against the resistance of the hand as if trying to look over the right shoulder. In this case, it counts up to 10. The movement is repeated by changing hands in the opposite direction.


A)  Turn your head slowly to the right and hold for three seconds. Turn your head forward. Have a rest. Do the same movement in the opposite direction. Have a rest. Repeat all 5 times.

B)  Try to lean your head forward so that your chin touches your chest, without causing excessive strain. Have a rest. Slowly bend your head back. Have a rest. Repeat 5 times

C)  Try to slowly tilt your head to the right until your ear touches your shoulder. Have a rest. Aim slowly. Repeat in the opposite direction. Have a rest. Repeat all 5 times.

D)  Turn your head clockwise (up, left, down, right) to make a circle as wide and complete as possible. Do the same movement counterclockwise. Have a rest. Repeat all 3 times.



A) Pendulum exercise:  Hold a table with one hand, bending your knees and waist slightly forward, and let the other hand hang freely. Swing your free arm for one minute, (a) back and forth, (b) left and right, (c) keeping your elbow straight.

B) Climbing exercise: With your face facing the wall, your elbows stretched, walk your fingers on the wall without bending your body. Repeat the same movement, facing the wall sideways. Do the same with the other arm.

C) Shoulder elevation: With the arms sagging to the side, in an upright position, raise your shoulders and breathe deeply, exhale while lowering. Repeat the same movement with one kg of weights in your hands.

D) With the arms in the free position, turn your shoulders from front to back and back to front.



Keep your chin bent (not up) and your neck slanted back. Use a stiff chair with arm supports. Don’t relax; Keep your entire spine straight against the backrest If you use the chair arms to support your arms, it helps to prevent unnecessary strain on your neck due to forward bending.


Keep your chin bent (not up) and your neck slanted back. Likewise, try to keep your waist straight. Do not lean forward without bending your knees; this will make it easier for you to keep your neck and shoulders reclined and straight.


Do not lie face down. It is better if you sleep on your side. Maintain a normal posture on your head and neck with the help of your pillow, (as shown in the figure) and keep your arms down. If you want to lie on your back, put your pillow under your head and neck. The pillow should support your head and neck in a neutral state. Avoid keeping your neck tight. It is good advice to put a board under the bed or to use a hard orthopedic mattress. Instead of trying to fit the soft pillow under your neck, you can also use a regular pillow.


Do not lie down on a sofa to watch television. Use a stiff seat or chair. Do not use soft feather pillows to support your head while reading.


Set high in the car. Your seat (preferably rigid) should be neither too low nor too far back so that you don’t need to bend or stretch to look over the steering wheel. A polyurethane pillow may be useful for support; The pillow should be 1-2 cm thick, your back wide, and up to your shoulders.


Bend your knees and use your leg muscles for lifting. Avoid sudden movements. Keep the weight close to your torso and don’t try to lift anything above waist level. If you have to reach on a shelf higher than your head, get on a chair. Avoid prolonged lying down or looking up.


Do not overwork. If you work at the desk all day; When you get a chance, get up and walk around. During work breaks


A)  Stand up straight and take a long stick in your hand. (a) Keeping the elbows taut, slowly raise and lower your hands. (b) Repeat the same movement backward, keeping the club behind the hips. Take care to keep elbows straight in both movements.

B)  Turn sideways against the wall. Extend your hand so that the palm is against the wall, and without bending your elbow, slide your hand upwards. Stretch your body at the last point where your palm touches the wall.

C) In the supine position, open your arms to the side without lifting your elbows from the ground, raise your hands to the air. Make sure that your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. In this position, touch your hands (first with the palm, then the back of the hand on the ground) without lifting your elbows from the ground and without disturbing the angle.


A)  Fly back on the ground, bring your hands behind your neck. Without lifting your elbows off the ground, push up. Count to 10, relax. You can do this movement by placing a pillow on your back.

B)  Sit upright on a chair with a straight line. Stretch back, bringing your hands together at your neck. Count to 10 in this position, relax.

A)  Stand facing the wall in a corner. Put your arms up against the wall and stretch towards the wall without lifting your heels off the floor.

B)  Stand on a doorway, put your hands on the threshold by raising your arms up and stretch forward as much as you can without taking your heels off the floor.


A)  Lie down in a position with your prone arms touching your hips. Try to raise your shoulders without disturbing this position.

B) In a  prone position, stretch your arms forward. Try to lift your arms outstretched without raising your chest and head

A)  Put your hands by your head in a prone position. Try to raise your hands, elbows, and shoulders, without lifting your head and chest off the floor.

B) In the prone position, bring your hands together on your hips and try to raise your elbows without bending.


A)  Sit straight, bring your hands together at chest level with your arms parallel to the floor and press them together, count up to 10, then hold for 5 seconds. Free your arms. Repeat the movement at chin level and forehead level.

B)  Try to separate your hands while standing in the same positions.

If you have a stiff neck best treatment is to go to the nearest physiotherapy center

Page content is for informational purposes only. Items containing information about therapeutic health service are not included in the content of the page. Consult your physician for diagnosis and treatment.

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