Stiff neck

Stiff neck

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If people can only move or turn their heads to a limited extent, this is described as a stiff neck. Affected people are no longer able to turn their heads, but have to turn the whole body in the desired direction. For some, the movement is just limited, for others, there is also pain. The symptoms can be acute or chronic.

Stiff neck - the most important facts

A stiff neck is extremely uncomfortable for those affected and in the worst case can be due to serious causes, which is why a medical examination should be carried out promptly in the case of certain accompanying symptoms or persistent complaints. However, the following article deals exclusively with complaints of a functional nature, which are not a medical emergency. First the most important facts in advance:

  • causes: functional disorders of the muscles, ligaments and cervical vertebrae due to incorrect stress and / or incorrect posture, sunstroke, meningitis (meningitis).
  • Consultation with the doctor is required immediatelyif there are accompanying symptoms such as headache, fever, skin changes, drowsiness, confusion, seizures, nausea and vomiting (risk of meningitis) and / or the stiff neck appears after prolonged exposure to the sun (sunstroke).

Symptoms and symptoms of a stiff neck

In the case of an acute stiff neck, for example, those affected get up in the morning and complain about restricted movement and pain. The pain can pull from the head to the shoulders or between the shoulder blades or there is a painful point in the transition between the neck and shoulder or sometimes also on the side of the second cervical vertebra, which causes increased discomfort when the head is turned.

Causes of a stiff neck

In most manual approaches it is assumed that an overload of a meniscus of the cervical spine joints may be present. These are very sensitive and could also explain occasional pain in the cervical spine. The pulling pain is explained with a hard tension of the trapezius muscle. Overloading due to long hold and prevention of the cervical spine, possibly due to computer, laboratory or desk work, can also lead to the problem. The phenomenon of the so-called "cell phone neck" is particularly noticeable here, which can be attributed to the intensive use of smartphones with corresponding incorrect posture. The German Society for Orthopedics and Orthopedic Surgery (DGOOC) has already pointed out the increased occurrence of such complaints.

When looking at the cell phone, the head is usually tilted forward by more than 45 degrees, so that forces of more than 20 kilograms act, reports the DGOOC. If this position is used often and for a long time, this leads to an extreme strain on muscles, tendons and intervertebral discs and the cervical spine is overloaded. This can lead to permanent muscle hardening and a gentle posture. Such muscle hardening is in turn considered to be possible causes of a stiff neck.

According to the fascia distortion model (FDM), which is strongly based on body language, the pain between neck and shoulder is caused by a piece of tissue that has passed through the enveloping tissue, the fascia. In the case of the chronic stiff neck, the pulling pain or blockage felt by the affected person is explained by chronic twisting of the fasciae or adhesions.

However, metabolic processes in a stiff neck may also play a role that should not be underestimated. Because a Japanese study from 2018 came to the conclusion that there is a connection between neck symptoms and LDL cholesterol values. Connections with the metabolic syndrome and obesity have also been demonstrated in previous studies.

Treatment for a stiff neck

In most cases, the symptoms decrease over time even without treatment. The accompanying healing process can be supported by various accompanying measures and the symptoms can be quickly alleviated. Manual therapies such as Rolfing, osteopathy or classic massages should be mentioned first.

Many sufferers massage the painful point themselves and then feel some relief. This also makes the head rotation a little easier if necessary. The FDM takes advantage of this and tries to reduce the point with strong thumb pressure. The pulling pain between shoulder and head is also treated with the thumb along the painful path.

Methods such as Rolfing or osteopathy go beyond the painful area on the neck and look at the entire body, including its tension distribution and static. An economic posture and tension should help the organism to find its own balance again.

In chiropractic, the pain on the vertebra is understood as a blockage and is to be released and made motionless by a pulse at high speed (manipulation). In a massage, the hardened muscles should be loosened and blood flow better. This should make normal movement possible again.

With neural therapy, individual pain points are injected with local anesthetics, reducing the pain stimulus and ensuring physiological movement again. (tf, fp)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Dipl. Geogr. Fabian Peters


  • Gentaro Kumagai, et al .: Associations between neck symptoms and LDL cholesterol in a cross-sectional population-based study; in Journal of Orthopedic Science, Volume 23, Issue 2, March 2018, pages 277-281,
  • Steven P. Cohen: Epidemiology, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Neck Pain; in Mayo Clinic Proceedings February 2015, Volume 90, Issue 2, pages 284-299, Mayo Clinic
  • German Society for Orthopedics and Orthopedic Surgery (DGOOC): Back health: Orthopedists and trauma surgeons give tips against the cell phone neck (published March 10, 2016),

Video: 4 Exercises To Fix Waking Up With A Stiff Neck Crick Neck (January 2023).