Neck Pain or Stiffness

Pain and/or stiffness in the neck is usually due to a minor problem, such as muscle strain or ligament sprain, that does not require treatment. However, if the pain occurs with fever, meningitis is a possibility. Neck pain or stiffness becomes more common as a person gets older and may then be due to a disorder of the bones and joints of the neck.

  • How long have you had pain and/or stiffness in the neck?

    • Less than 24 hours

      Have you jolted or injured your neck, for example in a car accident or fall?

      • Neck injury

        Have you noticed any of the following symptoms?

        • Difficulty moving an arm or leg
          • Possible cause Your symptoms indicate that there may be spinal damage (see Spinal injuries).

            Medical help EMERGENCY! Dial 999/112 and ask for an ambulance.

        • Pain, numbness, or tingling in an arm or leg
          • Possible cause Your symptoms indicate that there may be spinal damage (see Spinal injuries).

            Medical help EMERGENCY! Dial 999/112 and ask for an ambulance.

        • Loss of bladder or bowel control
          • Possible cause Your symptoms indicate that there may be spinal damage (see Spinal injuries).

            Medical help EMERGENCY! Dial 999/112 and ask for an ambulance.

        • None of the above
          • Possible cause Your neck is probably strained and/or bruised (see Muscle strains and tears).

            Self-help Take a painkiller and try to stay as active as the pain allows. You may find it helpful to sleep with a supportive pillow. Consult your doctor if you are no better in 24 hours, if the pain is severe, or if other symptoms develop.

      • No neck injury

        Do you have any of the following symptoms?

        • Temperature of 38°C (100.4°F) or above
          • Possible cause Meningitis could be the cause of these symptoms.

            Medical help EMERGENCY! Dial 999/112 and ask for an ambulance.

        • Severe headache
          • Possible cause Meningitis could be the cause of these symptoms.

            Medical help EMERGENCY! Dial 999/112 and ask for an ambulance.

        • Abnormal drowsiness or confusion
          • Possible cause Meningitis could be the cause of these symptoms.

            Medical help EMERGENCY! Dial 999/112 and ask for an ambulance.

        • Dislike of bright light
          • Possible cause Meningitis could be the cause of these symptoms.

            Medical help EMERGENCY! Dial 999/112 and ask for an ambulance.

        • Nausea or vomiting
          • Possible cause Meningitis could be the cause of these symptoms.

            Medical help EMERGENCY! Dial 999/112 and ask for an ambulance.

        • None of the above

          Does either of the following apply?

          • Pain is severe enough to prevent movement
          • Pain shoots down one arm from the neck
          • Neither

            Can you feel any tenderness or swelling at the sides or the back of the neck?

            • Yes
            • No

              Did either of the following apply in the 24 hours before the onset of pain?

              • You exercised unusually strenuously
                • Possible cause You may have neck strain (see Muscle strains and tears) or torticollis.

                  Self-help Take a painkiller and try to stay as active as the pain allows. You may find it helpful to sleep with a supportive pillow. Consult your doctor if you are no better in 24 hours, if the pain is severe, or if other symptoms develop.

              • You sat or slept in an awkward position
                • Possible cause You may have neck strain (see Muscle strains and tears) or torticollis.

                  Self-help Take a painkiller and try to stay as active as the pain allows. You may find it helpful to sleep with a supportive pillow. Consult your doctor if you are no better in 24 hours, if the pain is severe, or if other symptoms develop.

              • Neither
                • If you cannot identify a possible cause for your neck pain or stiffness from this chart, make an appointment to see your doctor.

    • 24 hours or longer

      Which of the following describes your symptoms?

      • Gradually worsening pain and stiffness over many months
        • Possible cause The cause of your symptoms may be cervical spondylosis, especially if you are over the age of 45.

          Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor.

      • Neck pain with numbness or pain in the arm and/or hand
        • Possible cause The cause of your symptoms may be cervical spondylosis, especially if you are over the age of 45.

          Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor.

      • Neither
        • If you cannot identify a possible cause for your neck pain or stiffness from this chart, make an appointment to see your doctor.

Dial 999/112 and ask for an ambulance if you have neck pain associated with the sudden onset of any of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty in controlling your bladder or bowels.
  • Pain, numbness, or tingling in a limb.
  • Difficulty moving a limb.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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