Possible Causes of a Stiff Neck

Published on December 4, 2018 in Neck Pain.

A stiff neck, which can limit your ability to move your neck or head, can make it difficult to perform everyday tasks such as driving or turning to say hello. Often, a stiff neck is accompanied by neck pain, headache, or pain in the arms and shoulders.

There are many causes of a stiff neck that can cause minor discomfort to severe pain.  In the case of the latter, a doctor may be needed to diagnose what’s causing a stiff neck and determine the best treatment. In most cases, a stiff neck will go away within a week.

In this post, we’ll discuss the various causes of a stiff neck, plus when medical intervention may be necessary.

Common Causes of Neck Stiffness

Holding an awkward position for too long

A stiff neck can occur after holding an awkward or uncomfortable position for too long, such as cradling a phone between the head and shoulder or sitting with your neck turned. Poor posture, such as slumping the shoulders or straining the neck forward, can have the same effects, straining the muscles and stretching them unnecessarily.


Sudden impact, whiplash, or strenuous activity can cause injury that results in a stiff neck. When the head is suddenly or forcefully pushed to the side, the neck becomes more susceptible to muscle injuries or sprains. Depending on the severity of the injury or symptoms, medical intervention may be needed.

Uncommon Causes of Neck Stiffness

Cervical spine conditions

Cervical spine disorders, such as herniated discs, degenerative disc disease, or cervical spinal stenosis can be associated with a stiff neck. These conditions should be diagnosed by a doctor and treated appropriately. Learn more about these conditions here.

Pinched nerves

Pinched nerves in the neck can be caused by conditions such as spondylosis (arthritis) or a herniated disc, and can be accompanied by neck stiffness or pain that progresses into the arms. Consult a doctor if the stiffness is not limited to your neck or if it doesn’t go away.


Infections, such as a viral infection or the flu, can cause a stiff neck in addition to other symptoms like fever and vomiting. More serious and potentially life-threatening infections, such as meningitis, can also result in stiffness in the neck and headaches.

When to see a doctor

You may know the root cause of your neck stiffness, especially if the stiffness started after a strenuous activity, waking up from sleeping in a strange position, or after a car accident.  Seek a doctor’s guidance if the cause of your stiff neck is unknown, accompanied by severe and/or chronic pain or other symptoms, or if it doesn’t go away within a week’s time.

Do you struggle with chronic neck pain and stiffness? Speak with your doctor or a surgeon to arrive at a diagnosis so you can begin treating the cause of your symptoms and alleviate pain as soon as possible.