A Stiff Neck Resulting In Pain And Restricted Motion Is Often The Cause Of A Certain Neck Muscle
Often, people will complain of waking up in the morning with a stiff neck. They will describe pain in the neck and shoulder and not being able to move the neck properly. The usual culprit is the levator scapula muscle. As you can see from the picture, this muscle runs from the neck to the top of the shoulder.
Waking with a stiff neck can be related to a pillow that lacks proper support. Sleeping on your side with one side too high or low can stretch or contract this muscle during sleep. This can be made worse if sleeping next to a cold draft from a window or ceiling fan. The stiffness causes difficulty in turning the head or rotating the neck to the painful side. Compensating for the stiff muscle, one will often have to use the body to turn instead of the neck and this can cause problems especially when driving.
Additional causes related to a stiff neck are long hours spent at a computer with the head tilted, using the phone by supporting it between your neck and shoulder, which greatly contracts the muscle and a poorly adjusted chair with the arm rests placed too high which raises the shoulders up further contracting the muscle. As indicated in the example, long periods spent with this muscle in a shortened, contracted state can cause a stiff neck, like using a walking cane or a crutch that is too high.
A stiff neck resulting from strain of the levator scapula can radiate to the upper back, inside the shoulder blade, into the shoulder and may even go to the head to cause neck related headaches. Imaging watching a tennis match for hours as you are sitting in the middle, following the movement of the ball from side to side, again and again. This can lead to a stiff neck for obvious reasons. Activities stressing the muscle like swimming, lifting weights without proper form and even emotional states can cause a stiff neck. Did you ever feel like you were holding the weight of the world on your shoulders? Feeling stressed out can cause this muscle to tighten without even noticing it until there is accumulated stiffness and pain. This is another way that a stiff neck can cause a tension headache.
One major part of the martial arts style I studied was to learn how to perform the motions while keeping the shoulders down, head up and straight. Learning how to release the tension in this manner helps to prevent a stiff neck and trains muscle memory, which can help throughout the day.
How To Treat A Stiff Neck
Treating a stiff neck can be frustrating. Typically, there is pain and there may be some inflammation. There are degrees involved in a stiff neck. There may be a general soreness from sustained contraction or overstretching of the muscle or there may be additional muscles involved as indicated in the neck strain section. Additionally, there is no rule that only one muscle is involved. Often, there are other factors. There can be minor tears in the muscle and the connection between the mucle and bone (tendon) may be involved. If it is more severe, there can be involvement of the ligaments which form the connection between the bones. Joints can be affected which can all lead to a stiff neck syndrome.
Basically, there are some things you can do to help regarding initial attempts to treat a stiff neck. For the pain and inflammation, you can take an anti-inflammatory like Ibuprofen, if there are no problems regarding side effects. There are certain areas that tend to form problems within the muscles called trigger points and these are pictured as the “X” areas in the muscle picture, which can be a focus of pressure therapy. The neck release pictured above is a great tool to use to treat these areas which may require more pressure directed to smaller areas of the muscl. Light massage can help in relief of pain and to help bring circulation to the area.
Many will recommend ice or cold therapy as treatment for a stiff neck, treating it as atraumatic type injury. Actually, ice may cause the muscle to further tenses and increase the stiffness. Some people can not tolerate cold on the neck, therefore, moist heat is recommended. It is improtant that it is moist heat and not a dry heat, which can cause more inlammation and blood stagnation. This can be achieved by standing under a shower, using a small towel and running hot water on it, wringing it out and placing on the neck. Howver, the most effective method is using a heating pad that is designed to provide moist heat and contoured to fit the neck and shoulders. They provide a more consistant level of moist heat and you can control the temperature of the heat and amount of time to treat the stiff neck muscles.
Heat can be applied before massage and to help relax the muscle before using traction. Traction type collars are easy to use and can help reduce stress on the muscles. Collars like the TracCollar or the Air Neck Traction Professional allow the force to be placed more or less to one side, which can target a muscle more specifically. Helping to ease pressure on the muscles from the weight of the head, many will use these devices while working.
Topical preparations can be helpful and these should be used only after heat is applied. Have someone use a application like the joint relief roll on to gently work it into the muscle for a few minutes. The active ingredients provide a distraction from the pain, while the herbs used in this formula can penetrate and help ease and heal a stiff neck. It is also possible to increase the effect of light massage using a special herbal liniment and this is a common practice within martial arts. If preferred, you can use a pain relief patches which helps healing herbs penetrate deep into the muscle over a longer period of time as an alternative to liquid based rubs or sprays.
Become familiar with do’s and dont’s of proper neck posture. Learn techniques of stress reduction such as breathing exercises to help reduce tension, any related headache and to help oxygenate the muscles.
If you are waking up with a stiff neck, it is a sign that your pillow may not be providing proper support. Since we sleep 6 to 8 hours, this can be a chronic source of a stiff neck and one that can easily be remedied with a pillow specifically designed to keep proper support and relax the muscles.
Stress reduction methods like breathing exercises can help reduce muscle tension and associated headaches. This also has relation to reducing poor posture which can have a big impact on the strength of the neck and proper tension of the muscles. If you work long hours at a computer, you must make some changes ergonomically to reduce the stress on the muscles which can cause a stiff neck. Please have look at how to improve computer related posture.
There is a method used in oriental medicine to treat a stiff neck with an acupressure point located in the hand. This is an easy method to use while taking a break to relax and can assist in working in conjunction with some of the other methods previously described.
Stiff Neck Final Thoughts
The causes of a stiff neck can be simple or more involved and we have concentrated on one of the main muscles involved is a typical stiff neck and some methods used in treatment. However, if the pain and stiffness persist for more than a few days or it gets worse regardless of home treatment attempts, always consult your health care provider.