Causes of Neck Stiffness & Pain


Neck pains and stiffness can involve the nerves, muscles and bones in the neck, shoulders and upper back, and can cause difficulty with normal movement and activities. Most neck discomfort goes away with rest, lifestyle changes or pain relievers. But neck pain and stiffness that is severe, involves weakness, swollen glands or does not go away with self-care requires prompt medical evaluation. Consider this information from the Mayo Clinic, the American Physical Therapy Association and the National Library of Medicine about the causes of neck stiffness and pain.


People who experience sudden trauma due to an event such as an auto accident may develop neck stiffness and pain. Improper lifting or exercise techniques can strain neck muscles, which can cause the neck to be stiff and painful. Injuries to the upper back during a fall or as a result of violence can also cause neck pain.


Influenza may cause pain or muscle aches and stiffness throughout the body, including the neck. People with infections such as bacterial or viral meningitis may develop symptoms such as neck stiffness or pain in addition to fever and confusion. Bacterial meningitis is a life-threatening condition that requires prompt medical treatment.

Medical Disorders

People with temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders may develop neck pain and stiffness due to misalignment, clenching or grinding of the teeth. Migraine headaches may cause neck pain and stiffness for the duration of the headache. People who are having a heart attack may experience neck pain that is accompanied by other symptoms, such as shortness of breath, dizziness and sweating.

Personal Habits

People who use a cell phone and hold it between their ears and shoulders may experience stiffness or pain in the neck. Carrying a heavy bag on the shoulder or hanging down from the hands can also be a cause of neck pain and stiffness. People whose computer screens or keyboards are not ergonomically arranged may also develop neck pain and stiffness.


Standing or sitting in the same position for a long time can cause neck pain and stiffness. People who sleep on their stomachs or with too many pillows may have a sore or stiff neck due to the unnatural sleep position. Hunching the shoulders or slouching can also be a cause of neck stiffness and pain.

Spinal Disorders

People with osteoarthritis of the spine may develop pain and stiffness in the neck that is worse first thing after getting up or after not moving for several hours. A slipped or herniated disk in the neck or upper back can also be a cause of neck stiffness and pain. People with spurs of the upper spine may develop neck pain and stiffness, as well as tingling or numbness in the arms.

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