Buzz, buzz, buzz. Your phone starts vibrating, signalling the beginning of another day.
You roll out of bed and blearily heading to the kitchen for your morning pick-me-up.
As you enter, you pick up the morning paper or check your emails on your phone. You look down – and that’s when the neck pain kicks in.
We’ve all been there.
In the vast majority of cases, the issue is the result of an awkward sleeping position, and usually resolves itself by the end of the day. While unpleasant, the discomfort is only temporary.
But what if you’re one of the unfortunate souls who deals with a stiff neck on a regular basis?
Our physiotherapists in Highett are experts in assisting with cases of neck pain!
Ask an Highett physio: the causes of a stiff neck
The neck contains all manner of muscles, ligaments, tendons and more, all of which work together to support your head and allow you to move it.
An issue with any one of these components, injury or muscle tension can lead to your neck becoming stiff and uncomfortable.
On top of restricting your neck movement, a stiff neck can also be quite painful too!
Most of the time, pain associated with a stiff neck is only temporary, and caused by external factors.
This can include uncomfortable sleeping positions or poor ergonomics at work (see: tech neck).
In these cases, the root cause is relatively easy to address, and the pain can be targeted with a couple of Panadol tablets.
In chronic cases however, something more sinister may be at play…
Soft tissue strain
Specifically, we’re talking about problems with the levator scapulae, located at the back and sides of the neck.
This particular muscle is especially prone to injury, and is the most common cause of stiff neck.
In addition to strains and sprains, this particular muscle can also be strained through injury and sudden impacts, as well as repeated side-to-side movements.
In some cases, you may even develop a stiff neck as a result of extended periods of muscle tension.
Keeping your neck muscles activated for long periods of time strains the levator scapulae, leading to what’s essentially an overuse injury.
Luckily, our Highett physios have plenty of experience providing physiotherapy for muscle strains – just because it’s in your neck this time doesn’t mean we can’t help.
Cervical disc problems
Think of cervical discs as your spine’s in-built shock absorbers, intended to cushion the vertebrae and stabilise your neck.
Issues with these discs are another potential cause of stiff neck.
In particular, cervical degenerative disc disease can cause these discs to lose hydration and shrink. In addition to reducing their ability to cushion your vertebrae, they also increase pressure on nearby joints, nerves and soft tissue.
It also isn’t uncommon for the protective outer portion of the disc to break down, causing compression and inflammation.
Either way, the result is the same: a stiff neck.
While not as common, infections like meningitis can often result in a stiff neck.
Meningitis in particular inflames the protective membranes in the spinal cord – this can result in restricted neck movement, as well as that tell-tale neck pain.
If your case of neck stiffness is accompanied by fever, headache, nausea or fatigue, we suggest booking an urgent appointment with your GP!
Once your GP has made their recommendations, our physiotherapists in Highett can help ensure that your neck recovers properly.
We’ll help devise strategies that minimise the strain on your neck, and which promote a more complete recovery.
Dealing with a stiff neck
Since there are so many different potential causes of a stiff neck, there’s no one way to deal with the pain – it all depends on your specific case.
That said, there are a couple of things you can do in the lead-up to your appointment with your physio to minimise pain…
Stretches are a staple of physiotherapy, and for good reason: they work!
While the exact routine that for your neck pain will vary, there are some stretches that can provide relief no matter the root cause of your neck pain:
- Roll your shoulders backwards and down 10 times
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together 10 times
- Push your head backwards into your car headrest or hands and hold for 30 seconds
- Bring your ear to your shoulder 10 times on each side
Adjust your work space
If you work a desk job, your monitor should be at eye level. You shouldn’t have to crane your neck to get a proper look at your work!
If your monitor is adjustable, we suggest adjusting it until your eyes sit level with the top ⅓ of the screen. This eliminates the need to keep your neck tensed, protecting your neck muscles and vertebrae.
Are you in the habit of going on long phone binges every 2-3 minutes? If so, we suggest getting into another habit: namely, the habit of taking regular breaks!
In many cases, our necks become strained from constantly being angled downwards. This increases pressure on the neck, and also keeps neck muscles tensed, which may lead to problems similar to overuse injuries.
Pay attention to your sleep position
In particular, never sleep on your belly!
We get it, it’s comfortable – however, it’s also the worst possible position for your neck!
When you sleep on your belly, you’re forced to turn your head. This puts extraordinary strain on your neck as a result, making this a leading cause of strained necks.
Physiotherapy for a stiff neck
If you suffer from chronic recurring cases of stiff neck (or any neck pain, really) you should get in touch with our physiotherapist in Highett, ASAP!
Our team is experienced in treating all sorts of neck pain and restoring your mobility.
As with all the cases we deal with, our Highett physios begin with an in-depth consultation that gets to the heart of the issue.
We’ll determine whether your particular case of stick neck is the result of poor posture and ergonomics, a problem with the tissue in your neck, or a problem with the vertebrae in your spine.
This is what lies at the heart of our AUS system!
Depending on the root of your neck pain, we will create a unique treatment plan that targets your unique condition.
For example, if it’s muscle strain that’s causing your neck to become stiff, we may prescribe a mix of:
- Remedial massage
- Muscle and joint mobilisation exercises
- Strength-building routines
- Ergonomic adjustments and suggestions for your work space
Really, it all depends on your specific case!
Stiffness can be a (literal) pain in the neck
Our physiotherapists in Highett can help!
Our mission is twofold:
- To help you beat neck pain
- To empower you, and enable you to live your most active life
And you can’t do either of those things with a stiff neck!
In addition to identifying and treating the problem itself, our physiotherapists in Highett also focus on preventing your neck pain from ever returning.
Whether that takes the form of ongoing physio sessions, a routine of neck exercises to build resilience in your neck muscles or swapping out your pillow for a more ergonomic option, our physiotherapists in Highett work hard to ensure that your neck pain is temporary.