Almost everyone has experienced some sort of feeling of neck stiffness. Whether it’s due to sleeping in an uncomfortable position, lack of regular movement, poor ergonomics, or the result of a more serious injury (hopefully not), neck stiffness is a common complaint that we treat in physical therapy. In fact, the CDC reports that 20% of all adults have experienced neck pain in just the past three months. Likely the most common instance of neck stiffness is noticed in the morning, usually after sleeping in an uncomfortable position, with symptoms like decreased mobility sticking with you throughout the day.
What causes a stiff neck?
Apart from the common causes listed above, it’s somewhat difficult to pinpoint what brings about a stiff neck and more often than not, the perception of stiffness in the neck is contributed to by the interplay between preconceived notions of anatomical changes, normal stress triggers, and insufficient recovery from physical activity. It’s ordinary to feel that the muscles of the neck are “shortening” or atrophying in some way when there is stiffness felt around the neck. It can also be common to feel that the joints of the neck are being compressed or decreasing in joint space but the evidence tells us that this is not the case and no structural changes are actually taking place.
People who tend to “carry stress” in the neck are probably more likely to experience neck stiffness than in other areas of the body. That stress is not necessarily limited to psychological stress either. Physically stressful events like car accidents, higher volumes of exercise than a person can tolerate, or jumping into new, difficult activities, can be contributory to that feeling of neck stiffness. You may also be more prone to neck stiffness depending on your ability to tolerate certain activities, especially if they involve the upper extremities.
Aside from a stiffness feeling, are there other associated symptoms?
Symptoms associated with neck stiffness may include headaches, likely not due to any actual pathology of the brain or neck, but more so the discomfort of not being able to move your neck comfortably. Sudden onset of neck pain will typically resolve itself in a matter of days. The important thing first is to not catastrophize the pain. Believe it or not, this can actually allow the pain to prolong itself. If you are confused as to how to best manage your discomfort after a few days it is recommended to seek stiff neck treatment from a professional that is educated in current concepts of cervicogenic pain, like a physical therapist.
How can physical therapy help with stiff neck relief?
You should seek out stiff neck relief if you have any stiffness or pain in your neck or if you experience radiating symptoms in your arms. Physical therapists have many tools in their toolbox to help you feel better and can be your go-to stiff neck remedy the next time you wake up with that feeling of tightness. Your one-on-one physical therapy treatment may include:
• Manual Therapy Techniques to restore motion and provide specific mobilization to the joints in the spine.
• Mechanical Assessment to produce a symptomatic response that will lead to centralization and abolishment of pain.
• Strengthening Exercises and Posture Training to address muscle imbalances that develop from prolonged poor posture. Depending on your condition, your PT may also recommend other activities such as yoga, TRX, or weight training to aid in your recovery.
A thorough physical therapy evaluation can be a great stiff neck remedy to help determine the source of pain and determine if you need to see a medical doctor for further testing. Once you have a better understanding of your pain, you can begin to make the necessary changes to feel better. For any current pain or discomfort, schedule an appointment with a neck physical therapist today.