What can you do to relieve a stiff neck?

A stiff neck is a condition that you surely know, since it is estimated that all people suffer from it at some point in their lives.

Although in some cases it can be a slight pain or a simple discomfort, in others it can prevent all kinds of activities, including those that are done at rest, such as sitting or sleeping. Learn here why this problem occurs and what you can do to alleviate it.

Why does stiffness occur?

A stiff neck is characterized by affecting the muscles of the neck, preventing natural movements of the neck, such as looking down, up or to the sides.

The discomfort it causes can also make it difficult or impossible to perform other types of daily activities, such as working, walking, running or even sleeping.

There are many factors that can cause a stiff neck. The most common is a muscle sprain or strain, that is, the stretching or tearing of a muscle or tissue that connects muscle to bone.

In the case of a stiff neck, the strain usually occurs in the levator scapulae muscle, which is located behind and to the side of the neck (connects the cervical spine to the shoulders). This can happen for different reasons:

  • Sleep in a position that favors relaxation.
  • Do activities that require sudden movements of the head or neck, from side to side.
  • Frequent stress.
  • Suffer sports or impact injuries.
  • Having a bad posture.

Another factor that has taken on greater responsibility in recent years is the use of new technologies, since they force us to maintain abnormal postures for long periods of time, for example, when holding the telephone between the neck and shoulder or when working for hours in front of to the computer.

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Neck stiffness can also be caused by bacterial infections, such as meningitis (which causes inflammation of the protective membranes of the brain and spinal cord) or meningococcemia (affects the cervical spine).

How to relieve a stiff neck

Neck pain or stiffness usually disappear after a few days, however, there are home remedies or treatments that can speed up or improve recovery:

Apply hot or cold

To relieve a stiff neck, professionals agree that one of the oldest methods is also one of the most effective: the application of cold or heat.

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It is advised that the cold be applied if there is inflammation or acute injury due to a blow or muscle or joint strain.

Generally, cold compresses or ice wrapped in cloths are applied during the first 48 hours after the injury, so that the blood vessels constrict and thus reduce swelling.

The heat, which can be applied through gel packs, is intended to relieve chronic pain or contractures, that is, when the muscle is tight.

This is because it favors the dilation of blood vessels and improves the flexibility and elasticity of ligaments and tendons.


Stretching can help relieve pain and stiffness, and even prevent them in the future. The important thing is that the movements you make are slow and smooth, otherwise it can cause more inflammation and pain.

To promote stretching, you can apply heat before performing the movements or take a hot shower. You can implement the following moves:

  • Slowly turn your head sideways.
  • Roll your shoulders back and then forward in circles.
  • Press your shoulder blades together and hold for a few seconds.
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care when sleeping

Getting enough sleep and in good conditions is essential for health. You can relieve a stiff neck by taking the following precautions when you go to bed:

  • Use a firm mattress that offers support.
  • Sleep only on your back or side.
  • Wear a break plate or mouth guard if you grind your teeth.

Control physical activity

Exercise is often recommended to strengthen muscles and prevent injuries, such as a stiff neck, while improving posture and controlling some risk factors for muscle strain, such as stress.

However, physical activity should be limited until the stiffness resolves. Overexertion or possible impacts due to exercise can aggravate the pain and worsen the injury.

keep a good posture

Having a good posture is very important to maintain balance, and avoid discomfort and injury. Keep in mind the following tips to relieve the pain caused by a stiff neck and prevent future injuries:

  • how to stand: the weight should be placed towards the balls of the feet or distributed throughout the sole of the foot, you should also prevent the abdominal area from moving forward. Keep your head up and shoulders slightly back.
  • how to sit: the feet must be in contact with the ground, the head straight, aligning the cervical and dorsal spine, and the knees and hips must be flexed, forming an angle of 90° with each other.
  • front view: if you are working, studying or reading, the book, computer, or cell phone should be at eye level (the head should be upright and not bent). This advice also applies to television.


Acupuncture is one of the oldest forms of medicinal practice in human history that is still in use. It consists of penetrating the skin with small needles at specific points on the body.

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With this, it seeks to stimulate certain nerve endings in the body and relieve a wide variety of conditions. Among the different benefits that are attributed to it, is reducing pain and stiffness caused by strains or sprains.

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Herbs and essential oils

From natural medicine it is recommended to use different essential oils with relaxing and analgesic properties. While these products are still under scientific study, they have been used for decades to relieve stiffness:

  • Turmeric essential oil.
  • Eucalyptus essential oil.
  • Ginger essential oil.
  • Lavender essential oil.
  • Peppermint essential oil.
  • Rosemary essential oil.


Massage is a technique that involves pressing, rubbing and manipulating the skin, muscles, tendons and ligaments to reduce tension, inflammation, pain and stress.

It also increases relaxation and improves blood circulation, which is why it is often recommended to treat a stiff neck.

You should consult a professional to find out which is the best massage according to your condition, since there are many types:

  • Relaxing massage.
  • Therapeutic massage.
  • Deep tissue massage.
  • Swedish massage.
  • Massage with volcanic stones.
  • Japanese massage or Shiatsu.
  • Balsamic massage.
  • lomi lomi massage
  • Massage with bamboo straws.
  • Pinda massage.
  • Mayan massage.
  • Reflexology.
  • When to consult the doctor

    Visiting a kinesiologist or chiropractor can also help, as these professionals are in charge of manipulating the muscles and joints to relieve pain.

    Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), or naproxen sodium (Aleve), among others, are also often advised.

    But remember, if by resorting to these or the previous options the pain lasts, worsens preventing you from carrying out your daily activities, spreads to the arms or legs or is accompanied by a persistent headache, you should see a doctor.

    Sources consulted: US National Library of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Harvard Medical School, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.

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