3 Reasons you May Have a Stiff Neck

Waking up with a stiff neck can throw off your whole day, to say the least.

If your neck hurts when you turn it, you’ll soon realize just how often you need to turn your head throughout the day. But more than being an annoyance, a stiff neck can be alarming.

Cervical Herniated Disc Video A herniated disc could be the source of your neck pain and stiffness.
Cervical Herniated Disc Video


Most people who experience a stiff neck will have soreness and difficulty moving the neck, causing them to turn their whole body to look to the side.

These symptoms may last from a few days to a couple of weeks. Other symptoms may include:

  • Headache
  • Shoulder pain
  • Arm pain

To learn more about shoulder and arm pain associated with a stiff neck, see What is Cervical Radiculopathy?

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Causes of a stiff neck

The good news is that a stiff neck is usually not caused by a serious medical condition. Causes can include:

Cervical Degenerative Disc DiseaseA damaged disc in the cervical spine may cause a stiff neck. Watch: Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease Video
  1. Muscle strain.
  2. Any activity that places your neck in an awkward position for an extended amount of time could cause your muscle to become fatigued and spasm. For example, holding your phone against your shoulder while you talk, sleeping in a funny position, carrying a heavy bag on one shoulder, or not having your computer screen at an optimal level can all cause neck pain.

    A newer cause of this is known as "text-neck," a real and growing cause of neck pain and stiffness as a result of people spending more and more time looking down at their smartphones.

  3. Cervical spine disorders.
  4. The cervical spine refers to the upper part of the spine (your neck), and is made up of the spinal cord, vertebrae, and discs.

    If any of these parts of the cervical spine become disordered, you may feel pain and stiffness. Some disorders that can occur include:

    • Facet joint disorders. The facet joints are located in the back of the spinal segments, and they allow for movement. If they start to wear out or degenerate as a result of osteoarthritis, you may experience a stiff, painful neck.

    • Disc problems. If a disc in your neck is herniated, it may irritate your nerve roots causing pain and stiffness in your neck and down into your arms. This condition is a more serious condition that will need medical attention.

  5. Infection.
  6. Stiff neck caused by an infection (such as meningococcal disease) is rare compared to the other causes above, and is very serious if it is the cause of your neck stiffness. If you experience fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, or other signs of an infection along with your stiff neck, call your physician immediately.

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