Neck pain or a stiff neck is a common problem and generally nothing to worry about.
The pain and stiffness usually gets better after a few days, and is not a sign of a more serious neck problem or underlying condition.
You can get a painful or stiff neck if you sleep in an awkward position, use a computer keyboard for a prolonged period of time, or even from sitting in a draft.
Anxiety and stress can also sometimes cause tension in your neck muscles, which can lead to pain in your neck.
However, there is often no obvious cause of neck pain and doctors will refer to it as 'nonspecific'.
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Whatever the cause of neck pain or a stiff neck, the advice is generally the same: carry on with your normal daily activities, keep active and take painkillers to relieve the symptoms. See below for some more specific advice.
See your doctor if the pain or stiffness does not improve after a few days and you are worried, or if you cannot control the pain using ordinary painkillers.
Your doctor will examine your neck and ask some questions to help rule out any serious underlying damage or condition. They may also prescribe a stronger painkiller, such as codeine, to take with your usual over-the-counter painkillers.
If you have had neck pain or stiffness for a few weeks, ask your doctor to refer you to a physiotherapist. There is no scientific evidence that chiropractic or acupuncture are effective treatments for a stiff neck or neck pain.
If your symptoms are particularly severe or do not improve, your doctor may consider referring you to a pain specialist for painkilling injections.
Some people suddenly wake up one morning to find their neck twisted to one side and stuck in that position. This is known as acute torticollis and is caused by injury to the neck muscles.
Torticollis can occur after long exposure to a cold draft, or after your neck has been in an unusual position.
See your doctor for treatment, and to rule out any serious underlying cause. Acute torticollis can take up to a week to get better, but usually only lasts 24-48 hours. Manage your pain at home by following the advice above.
You may be able to manage your pain at home by following the advice outlined above. However, make an appointment to see your doctor if your symptoms persist for more than 48 hours. Your doctor will examine your neck and may recommend further treatment.
Cervical spondylosis occurs naturally with age. It does not always cause symptoms, although in some people the bone changes can cause neck stiffness. Nearby nerves can also be squashed, resulting in pain that radiates from the arms, pins and needles and numbness in the hands and legs.
Neck pain caused by a squashed nerve is known as cervical radiculopathy. It can sometimes occur after your neck has been held in an awkward position, after twisting or bending your body abnormally, or following the use of vibrating power tools.
The pain can often be controlled by following the advice listed above. However, if your symptoms persist, you may be referred for an MRI scan. You may also want to talk to your doctor about being referred for pain management.
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.