What Are the Different Causes of a Stiff Neck?

Alex Tree

Some of the different causes of a stiff neck are stress, poor posture, whiplash, and spinal injury. Poor posture is one of the less serious causes of a stiff neck and is often corrected with discipline and time. Whiplash happens when the neck is injured by suddenly being jerked one way, then another, leading to stiffness that can last for years. Spinal trauma or other kinds of injury are especially serious and can leave the injured person unable to move part or all of his or her body. In addition, sometimes the culprit is just overuse of the neck.

Many people get stiff necks after riding a roller coaster.
Many people get stiff necks after riding a roller coaster.

Poor posture can be blamed for a lot of aches and pains, including back pain, shoulder pain, and a stiff neck. One example of poor posture is people who slump at a computer or do not have a computer monitor at eye level, so they must always look down. People who suffer from poor posture can practice having better posture by trading in their normal furniture for ergonomic designs. A cheaper option involves simply having better posture, but this can take months of discipline and possibly exercise to correct.

A woman with a stiff neck.
A woman with a stiff neck.

Whiplash occurs when the muscles and other tissues of the neck are strained by a sudden, jerking movement. For example, a vehicle that stops because of a crash or a roller-coaster that takes a sharp turn can cause whiplash. Sometimes being violently shaken or punched can result in the health problem too. The pain and stiffness from whiplash is worst during the first few days of the accident. Some people report having whiplash symptoms, like a stiff neck, for months or years after the injury.

Poor posture can cause a stiff neck and shoulder pain.
Poor posture can cause a stiff neck and shoulder pain.

Most injuries to the spine can affect the neck in some way. Disk herniation, spinal trauma, and various other spine-related problems have stiff neck as a symptom. In cases of a disk herniation, people experience pain and stiffness in the neck a little less than 10 percent of the time. Spinal trauma is often caused by twisting the body in an unnatural way, leading to stiffness, weakness or paralysis. People sometimes experience difficulty breathing if the neck was twisted, injuring the muscles of the throat.

Tension headaches may cause a stiff neck.
Tension headaches may cause a stiff neck.

Another one of the less serious causes of a stiff neck is overuse. Any activity that involves moving the neck more than usual can result in having a stiff neck later on. For example, playing a new sport, learning a new exercise, or even sleeping in a strange position can all be causes of a stiff neck. Stress can contribute to a stiff neck when a person holds a lot of tension in his or her neck, back or shoulders.

Neck ache can be caused by muscle strain.
Neck ache can be caused by muscle strain.
Whiplash and other neck injuries sustained in an accident can lead to a stiff neck.
Whiplash and other neck injuries sustained in an accident can lead to a stiff neck.
Although an ergonomic chair may help alleviate a stiff neck, it's still important to take frequent stretch breaks.
Although an ergonomic chair may help alleviate a stiff neck, it's still important to take frequent stretch breaks.
Sleeping with the neck in an abnormal position may cause a stiff neck.
Sleeping with the neck in an abnormal position may cause a stiff neck.
Sleeping in the wrong position can result in a stiff neck the following day.
Sleeping in the wrong position can result in a stiff neck the following day.

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