The normal human neck has a pretty good range of motion. A person with a healthy neck should be able to rotate his or her chin to almost touch each shoulder as well as be able to bend the neck laterally so each ear can touch the shoulder. A person who can’t do these things or extend or flex his neck may be suffering from a stiff neck.
A stiff neck is usually associated with difficulty moving the neck as well as soreness – especially when trying to turn the head. Other symptoms may include shoulder and/or arm pain and maybe even headache. Symptoms may vary in intensity, ranging from anywhere from a sharp, painful and limiting condition to one that is just an annoyance with a little discomfort.
Chiropractic care offers non-invasive and natural treatments that can help to ease the pain that comes with a stiff neck as well as restore normal range of motion. A stiff neck is more than just a pain in the neck – it can adversely affect your daily life, even impacting your field of vision when you drive. Resolving the cause of your stiff neck with chiropractic care is a wise step you may want to consider taking.
What Causes a Stiff Neck?
Many cases of neck pain develop after strenuous activity or suddenly after waking one morning. It will often go away naturally within a week or so but how a person cares for and manages symptoms of a stiff neck can impact their pain levels as well as recovery time. Fortunately there is help.
The most common cause of stiff neck is a soft tissue sprain or muscle strain. The muscle that is most susceptible to neck injury is called the levator scapulae and can be found at the back and side of the neck. This muscle connects the cervical spine to the shoulder.
The levator scapulae can be strained through numerous everyday activities, including:
- Slouching or poor posture
- Turning the head to the side repeatedly, such as during swimming
- Sleeping with the neck in an awkward position
- Repeated stress or anxiety
- Holding the neck in an unnatural position for a long period, such as holding a phone between the neck and shoulder
Less common causes are related to underlying disorders of the cervical spine, which is useful in not only supporting the neck but also helps it to move as well as protecting the spinal cord. Some cervical spine disorders that may be associated with the development of a stiff neck include a cervical herniated disc, cervical osteoarthritis and cervical degenerative disc disease.
How Does a Chiropractor Help with Neck Pain?
Chiropractors like Dr. David Shapiro help patients to manage neck pain with chiropractic adjustments to realign the vertebra in the neck to their proper position. This reduces pressure on the neck while enabling the muscles to relax. Chiropractic adjustments also help to reduce inflammation while improving central nervous system function.
A chiropractor may use other therapies as well to treat your stiff neck, including electrical muscle stimulation, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulators (TENS), hydrotherapy, traction, ultrasound, massage and more.
Chiropractic care is greatly effective in eliminating or reducing many types of neck pain. One research study determined that patients had “very satisfying results” regarding their chronic neck pain after 8 weeks of receiving chiropractic care.
Stiff Neck Self-Care
You can do some things on your own to help heal your stiff neck along the way, in addition to chiropractic treatment. Here are three:
- Get plenty of rest. Take it easy for a couple of days to allow your injured tissues a chance to start healing. But only limit rest to one or two days as to much inactivity can lead to weakened muscles.
- Cold/heat therapy. Apply cold therapy to reduce inflammation and relieve many types of neck stiffness during the first 24 to 48 hours for the most benefit. Applying heat can increase blood flow to encourage a better environment for healing. Some people like to alternate hot and cold while others prefer one or the other. It is important to check the skin periodically to ensure there is no tissue damage from excess cold or heat.
- Gentle stretching. Once you can tolerate it, begin gentle stretches to help ease the stiffness in your stiff neck so you can restore your range of motion. Ask your chiropractor for tips on which stretches are most appropriate for your stiff neck.