What People With a Stiff Neck Need to Know

Why is my Neck so Stiff?

Physio treating a stiff neck

Do you wake up in the morning and start to slowly move your head from side to side to try get some relief?

Are you constantly trying to ‘crack’ your neck to make it feel looser?

Do you find it difficult to look over your shoulder while you’re driving the car?

Why is your neck so stiff?

Your neck is a relatively complex area comprising many joints and even more muscles. All of these joints/muscles and their relationships will have an effect on how much movement you have at your neck. Neck stiffness is often accompanied by soreness/pain. The 4 main culprits for neck stiffness are:

1. Pain

being in pain is a major reason for reduced movement in your neck; if a specific movement is painful, naturally you won’t let your neck go into this movement too much. However, when pain subsides, often people keep these adopted movement patterns and continue to not move the way they did when they were in pain leading to long-term stiffness.

2. Muscle Tightness

as previously mentioned, the neck has many muscles; there are a few main offenders in the neck that often become “tight” or hypertonic (in spasm). Some reasons for this “tightness” include stress, lack of movement/prolonged positions, inadequate muscle endurance/strength.

3. Joint Restriction

lack of movement, surgery, previous trauma & bony change scan all lead to joints becoming restricted.

4. A Stiff Mid-Back

when your thoracic spine (mid back) is stiff it will restrict the movement capacity of your neck; if you sit down most of the day the chances are you probably will have a stiff mid back (unless you’re doing specific exercises to help loosen it out). 

Oftentimes, there isn’t just one of these issues causing your neck stiffness; sometimes it can even be all 4. The good news is that all of them can be improved! When people come to our clinic, we assess their history, these 4 areas, as well as some more specific physical tests to try to figure out what is causing their neck stiffness.

What can you do to Treat your Neck?

We use various hands-on techniques to restore movement to the neck. You can see an example  of some self treatment techniques below. Hands-on treatment can be very important around the neck; however, making this new range of movement permanent is just as important through specific exercises. Examples of these are explained here.

Self Treatment Tips for Muscular Neck Pain

Essential Neck Range Of Movement - Self Check

Another important thing to mention is that sometimes people have the sensation of having a stiff neck, yet, they have as much movement as always. This case can often be due to muscle hypertonicity/spasm which gives the sensation of tightness & soreness and the feeling that you need to stretch. The cause of this muscle spasm is often because these muscles can’t tolerate the load being put on them (i.e. they’re weak), so stretching rarely has a significant effect. Strengthening is the key for issues like this. Strengthening the shoulder muscles are just as important; you can find a low-level shoulder strengthening exercise here:

If you have been having neck stiffness for an ongoing period, don’t let it continue. These kinds of things can get worse over time. If you would like to talk to one of our Physios, you can call us on (025) 35015 and we would be happy to help.


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