A stiff neck can develop when your neck muscles, tendons, or ligaments are injured. A strain and sprain on the muscles are considered minor injuries.
You will experience inflammation of the neck’s soft tissues. These injuries cause stiffness and muscle spasms in the neck. Because of this, a crick in the neck is usually accompanied by neck pain.
Although, not everyone with neck stiffness experiences pain in the neck. It can be temporary or chronic and involve shoulder pain.
Symptoms that accompany a neck crick are:
A popping sensation or sound when moving your neck in a specific direction
Stiffness in the neck or muscles around it ( shoulders or upper chest)
Difficulty moving the neck in a particular direction
A painful feeling when rotating the neck
What Causes A Crick In The Neck
The most common cause for cricks in the neck comes down to having your neck in an awkward position for an extended period.
A crick in the neck occurs with long periods spent sitting in front of a computer and don’t notice that their head has been in the same awkward position for too long and a slouched or slumped position.
These habits can make minor injuries worse or prevent them from recovering.
Internally, it means that your vertebra is out of alignment and that your neck muscles and tendons are stretched in the wrong way.
Also, other possible causes can be the following:
Being stationary all-day
Strains, sprains, and other related minor injuries
Poor muscle flexibility
Less common causes of neck stiffness and pain like arthritis would typically be found in older people or people with an underlying medical problem or poor physical health lifestyle choices.
Examples of these causes would be:
Herniated disc – A swelling/bulging in the discs in the spine.
Osteoarthritis – The most common type of arthritis that occurs most frequently in the hands, hips, and knees.
Fractures – If a fracture occurs in the upper spine, you need corrective braces to keep you still. This would generally inhibit movement of the head and neck, causing a crick in the neck.
Spinal Stenosis – Narrowing of the spinal canal caused by arthritis.
Spondylolisthesis – A condition where one of your vertebra slips
It is a serious medical condition when the membranes that protect the brain and spinal cord ( Meninges ) get infected and inflamed. Meningitis is a life-threatening condition caused by bacteria or viruses.
Symptoms that accompany this disease include:
Numbness or pain in the limbs
Sensitivity to light
2) Stroke or heart attack
Strokes or heart attacks can also cause sudden pain and stiffness in the neck.
Seek emergency medical attention if these symptoms occur:
Intense pain and headache
Shooting sensations down your arm
Numbness of limbs
Weakness or dizziness
3) Cervical Artery Dissection
It is a condition where your neck arteries are torn due to being hyper-extended from strenuous activities.
Cervical artery dissection is a major challenge to physicians. A 2003 study showed that patients had a high risk of suffering stroke.
If this happens to you, you may experience an intense headache stemming from a sharp pain at the base of your skull, as well as neck stiffness and pain.
4) Brain or spinal cord injury
It occurs when a sudden, brutal force hits your head, especially the back of the head, damaging the brain, the spinal cord, or both.
The usual culprits are instances of accidental slips and hitting your head or sustaining sports-related injuries such as contact sports and fighting sports.
Some of the symptoms include the following:
Neck stiffness after hitting your head
Difficulty with in-depth perception and thinking
Examine where in your head you got hit and have it checked by a doctor. An intense injury to the head may result in permanent brain damage causing paralysis.
How to Treat a Crick in the Neck
Treatment for a crick in the neck will depend on the cause. It is essential to identify if it is an injury or a sign of disease.
A muscle injury or stiffness can be treated at home.
If unhealthy habits are the cause, you will need to make lifestyle changes. Home treatments can only relieve symptoms but will not tackle the main problem.
1) Changing position
Sometimes you can suddenly wake up with a stiff neck because of how you slept. You can change the way you sleep and avoid sleeping in odd positions.
Choose to sleep comfortably in bed with proper head and neck support.
A firm pillow, ergonomic chair, or neck cushion can benefit you if you have trouble sleeping comfortably.
Furthermore, it can prevent stiffness if you use neck support during long drives, flights, or sitting down in front of your desk.
2) Over-the-counter pain relievers
You can buy over-the-counter medicines at your local pharmacy that can relieve inflammation.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or analgesics can reduce neck stiffness and pain, this includes:
Ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin)
Inflamed soft tissues on your neck are treated with these drugs to fight inflammation. Stiffness caused by conditions such as arthritis can benefit from them as well.
3) A heating pad or rice sock
Heat and ice packs can increase blood flow to the neck, helping the injury heal faster. Any muscle injury is usually treated at home with a hot compress or ice pack.
This method can reduce inflammation and ease the pain in the muscles in your neck.
You can alternate heat and ice packs every 20 minutes. Nevertheless, you can continue using only one method if you prefer it from the other.
Stiff muscles around the neck can benefit from gentle stretches. It can free the nerves from tension and pain.
You first slowly rock your head from side to side, then roll your head forward. As you feel the tension of gravity on your neck, you circle your head around.
Stretching will prevent muscle spasm, poor posture, and muscle weakness.
A 2015 study determined that a shoulder-stretching routine is a good exercise program for office workers to fight chronic muscle pain. Neck and shoulder pain were decreased in regular stretching exercises, improving neck function and quality of life.
Yoga, pilates, and occasionally moving your shoulder or head can fight generalized stiffness in the neck and other muscles.
However, it would be best if you didn’t force or overextend your muscles since it can make neck pain worse.
5) Alternative treatments
Chronic neck stiffness or pain can also be resolved with complementary treatments such as acupuncture, hydrotherapy, or massage therapy.
Neck pain can worsen or lead to other complications if a neck massage is done incorrectly.
6) Chiropractor or physical therapy
When home remedies and alternative treatments do not work, physical therapy techniques and chiropractic care can tackle neck cricks and severe pain.
Additionally, a chiropractor and physical therapist can provide suggestions to prevent muscle stiffness and injuries from occurring again.
Chiropractic care is a controversial practice and may have certain risks. It is recommended to first schedule an appointment with a physical therapist with advanced manual therapy training.
Physical therapy treatments usually involve an exercise program. It is a medical practice applied in hospital settings. Patients who have difficulties moving or have limited mobility undergo physical therapy. Moreover, there are no risks involved in physical therapy.
When To See A Doctor
In most cases, a crick in the neck goes away on its own without any need for treatment or remedy.
But if it lasts for more than several hours to a day, you may try home remedies or alternative therapies.
While most people find relief without seeing a doctor, there are circumstances that you will need to schedule an appointment for proper diagnosis and medical intervention.
You may require emergency medical attention if you experience severe symptoms of diseases accompanying sudden neck stiffness or a neck crick.
Heart attacks and strokes are life-threatening diseases. Signs to determine them are when a neck stiffness occurs with intense jaw pain, weakness, chest pain, shooting sensations, and difficulty breathing.
However, conditions such as osteoarthritis will require continuous treatment or maintenance medicines.
The Bottom Line
A crick in the neck is a minor inconvenience for many that can be treated at home and prevented with a few stretches, regular exercise, and proper posture.
Minor injuries to the muscles commonly cause this problem. With the proper habits and a healthy or active lifestyle, you will experience fewer issues with your neck.
Moreover, you can try several treatment options if you start to experience persistent neck stiffness and pain.
And if more severe symptoms occur, such as those mentioned above, an urgent visit to a doctor is required.
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