When is a Stiff Neck a Cause for Concern?

When is a Stiff Neck a Cause for Concern?

When is a Stiff Neck a Cause for Concern? 1280 720 Msk Therapy

Nearly everyone can relate to a stiff neck that is often accompanied by pain as well as numbness in the surrounding areas. Whether it was caused by sleeping awkwardly, or by doing something strenuous; stiffness and soreness in the neck can be very uncomfortable and painful. In most cases, however, it only lasts a couple of days and, as far as treatment is concerned, resting is generally the number one recommendation for a stiff neck.

Other symptoms may include shoulder pain, arm pain, a dull headache, and sharp pain in the neck when moving your head to the side. While it is a very common condition that individuals experience at least once in their life, in some cases, a stiff neck can indicate a more serious underlying health issue. Today, MSK Therapy is sharing some crucial information on illnesses and conditions that cause a stiff neck, among other symptoms. Read on.

Symptoms To Be Wary Of

Your first instinct might tell you that your stiff neck was caused by a sprain or something along those lines; however, these common causes of a stiff neck can be ruled out when you are experiencing ‘red flag’ symptoms. In fact, if there is an underlying health concern, one or more symptoms may even develop before the stiffness and/or pain in the neck occurs. 

Here is a brief look at symptoms that accompany a stiff neck that you should be wary of as they may indicate other serious medical conditions:

  • Nausea – Vomiting may occur at any time in the day
  • Headaches – Typically experienced with accompanying symptoms, the headache may also feel slightly different from a regular headache; this includes the severity of the pain and duration of the same
  • Fever – Particularly recurring fever, is generally a sign of infection or an underlying medical condition
  • Weight loss – Sudden weight loss that cannot be attributed to dietary changes or exercise 
  • Mood swings – Inexplicable changes in one’s mental state of mind which may include mood swings and confusion
  • Fatigue – Feeling tired or drowsy for no reason
  • Coordination problems – Sudden dizzy spells and/or loss of proper coordination when writing or walking

IMPORTANT: If any of the above symptoms are experienced alongside a stiff neck, it is advisable to visit a doctor immediately for a thorough examination. 

What a Stiff Neck Could Indicate

It is quite rare for some conditions to lead to a stiff neck, however, it is not unheard of. Therefore, it is advisable for individuals to have knowledge on the same in order to seek medical attention in a timely manner. 

Here are a few medical conditions that could leave you with a stiff neck.

Cervical Spine Disorders

Misalignment of the cervical spine can cause a painful stiff neck. There are many different cervical spine disorders that may be related to discs, vertebrae, etc. that lead to stiffness, numbness, and pain in the neck and upper back. 

Here are some of the most common cervical spine disorders that cause a stiff neck:

  • Herniated disc
  • Facet joint disorders
  • Cervical osteoarthritis

Cervical Dystonia

This condition is also known as ‘spasmodic torticollis’ and is characterised by uncontrollable muscle spasms in the neck that leave your head tilted or twisted in an unnatural position. Cervical dystonia, a painful, neurological disorder, can also cause an individual to lose control of their head movements, thus leaving the head tilted backward or forward. 


A stiff or sore neck could indicate the development of a tumor in the brain or cervical spine. One that has formed in the cerebellum is the most common area of the brain wherein a tumor may lead to a stiff neck. 


In the next section, we will be discussing in more detail one of the most serious infections that cause a stiff neck which is meningitis. Apart from this, there are various other types of infections that leave patients with a stiff, painful neck. 

Meningitis – A Serious Condition Associated With a Stiff Neck

Out of the many different infections that may cause a stiff neck, meningitis is the most common and serious medical condition to be associated with it. This bacterial infection causes symptoms such as a stiff neck, fever, or headache due to inflammation of the spinal cord and protective membranes of the patient’s brain. If a person experiences two or more of these symptoms, they are advised to seek an immediate medical evaluation to rule out meningitis. 

The development of symptoms after exposure to the infection differs from patient to patient; some may experience them sooner while others, later. The severity of the symptoms is also different for every individual, however, one thing remains the same – treatment of meningitis should be done at the earliest possible to avoid serious health effects which include brain damage and loss of hearing.

With that in mind, it is important to note that some patients may not experience a stiff neck but instead, be affected by other symptoms such as vomiting, confusion, fever, and a sudden sensitivity to light and/or loud sounds.

At MSK Therapy, we are happy to educate patients on the importance of identifying red flag symptoms related to a stiff, sore, or painful neck. We also offer a wide range of chiropractic care treatments, massages, and customised physiotherapy sessions to put you on the right road to recovery!