Stiff neck muscles can bring along troublesome symptoms that can disrupt your day. In the beginning, you often find it challenging to move your head smoothly. You feel tension and stiffness in your neck. In some cases, you may experience headaches or occasional dizziness. Your body is sending a clear signal that something is amiss. In this blog, we will delve into the causes of stiff neck muscles, why your body reacts this way, and what you can do to alleviate discomfort.
The function of your neck
Your neck does much more than you might think: it holds your head up, allows you to move your head in all directions, and protects your spinal cord, which is a part of the central nervous system. Important blood vessels, such as the carotid artery, and nerves that transmit signals between the brain and the rest of the body are located in your neck. Neck muscles work as a team to keep everything stable and balanced.
Did you know that approximately 2 out of 3 people experience stiff neck muscles and neck pain at some point? In most cases, the symptoms resolve on their own, but sometimes there may be an underlying issue.
Causes of stiff neck muscles
It’s not always easy to pinpoint the cause of neck pain and stiff neck muscles. Often, it’s a combination of various factors. The most common causes include:
If you experience a lot of stress, your body remains constantly alert. In certain situations, this is fine, but excessive and prolonged stress can be harmful. Stress manifests differently in everyone and can be a cause of stiff neck muscles.
- Excessive Physical Strain
Daily activities or work-related tasks that place a constant strain on the neck muscles often lead to tension and discomfort. Think of lifting heavy objects without proper technique. Various professions and tasks can overburden the neck, such as mechanics, painters, dentists, construction workers, and hairdressers. Unconscious habits, such as carrying a heavy bag on one side of your body, can also lead to excessive strain on the neck muscles.
- Poor Posture
Tight neck muscles are often the result of poor posture. Did you know that a human head weighs approximately 5 kg, about as heavy as a lightweight bowling ball? If your head is slightly forward due to poor posture, it places extra pressure on the neck muscles. An example is prolonged downward tilting of your head to look at your smartphone or tablet.
- Fall or Injury
If you’re in a car accident (whiplash) or fall down the stairs and subsequently experience neck pain, the cause is evident. Injuries can also occur during sports.
- Wear and Tear and Osteoporosis
This mainly occurs in older individuals. When the intervertebral discs in the neck wear out (osteoarthritis), it results in reduced flexibility and range of motion. Muscles tense up in response to pain or inflammation. Another process that can cause neck issues is osteoporosis, which leads to bone weakening. As the body tries to compensate for reduced stability, the neck muscles become overstressed.
- Cervical Hernia
The likelihood of having a cervical hernia when experiencing stiff neck muscles is not very high. In this condition, an intervertebral disc presses against the nerve, causing sensations primarily in the arm.
Your neck serves as a vital junction of nerves and muscles that connect your head to the rest of your body. The upper part of your back muscles, the muscles in your skull, and neck muscles come together. When you have a stiff neck, one or more of these muscles are rigid, irritated, and painful. But why does this happen? Your body automatically responds to pain and discomfort. Muscles contract as a protective reaction, intended to prevent further damage. It’s wise not to ignore such signals, as doing so often makes the condition worse. Pain relievers temporarily mask the pain signals but don’t address the root cause of stiff neck muscles.
Consequences of Stiff Neck Muscles
When you have stiff neck muscles, everyday activities become challenging. Some examples include:
Quickly checking over your shoulder while driving to change lanes or when parking can be difficult. It impairs your ability to react promptly to traffic situations.
- Working at a Computer
Even a small movement, like tilting or turning your head to focus on a different part of the screen, can cause discomfort. This makes work much more challenging.
Activities like swimming, tennis, or golf, where neck rotation is essential for movement, become more difficult. Even turning your head during running or cycling becomes painful or impossible. Starting fitness or yoga with stiff neck muscles is particularly challenging.
Many people with stiff neck muscles struggle to find a comfortable sleeping position. The pain can make falling asleep difficult, leading to low energy levels.
- Social Interactions
Simple gestures like maintaining eye contact during a conversation or turning your head to show something are limited. This can be frustrating, both at work and at home.
- Daily Routines
Activities you usually don’t think twice about, like combing your hair, brushing your teeth, or applying makeup, become more challenging when you have limited neck mobility.
Tips to Relax Stiff Neck Muscles
If you’re experiencing neck pain and want to know what you can do about it, consider the following tips:
- Make Small Movements
Gently perform exercises to warm up the neck muscles and reduce tension. It’s essential to keep moving to prevent the muscles from stiffening further. A physiotherapist can help with this.
- Learn to Manage Stress Better
To cope with stress and reduce stiff neck muscles, incorporate stress management techniques into your daily routine. Consider deep breathing exercises, meditation, regular physical activity, and training in time management and assertiveness.
- Adjust Your Workspace
Perhaps the cause of your stiff neck muscles is an inadequate workspace. Simple changes, like adjusting your chair’s height or your computer screen, can prevent neck problems. Take short breaks to move your neck and shoulders.
- Help Your Muscles Relax
Both cold and heat can help relax your muscles and alleviate neck pain. Use an ice pack for acute injuries and inflammation. Cold narrows blood vessels, reducing swelling and pain. Warm therapy is often used for muscle pain and tension. Apply a warm compress to the painful area, take a warm shower, or use an infrared lamp. If these methods aren’t sufficient, consider gently massaging your muscles or seeing a masseuse.
- Replace Your Pillow
How long have you been using the same pillow? If you often wake up with stiff neck muscles, it might be time for a new pillow. Most pillows last only 1 to 2 years, after which they lose their shape and support, potentially leading to neck pain. Also, check your mattress.
Treatment of Stiff Neck Muscles with Chiropractic Care
If you have stiff neck muscles, visiting a chiropractor is a good idea. Chiropractic care improves mobility and reduces muscle tension. We can also address other issues arising from stiff neck muscles, such as headaches and dizziness. Aim for a healthy life free from pain!
Would you like to learn more about what chiropractic care can do for stiff neck muscles? Schedule an initial consultation; you don’t need a referral from your primary care physician.