What causes neck pain and stiffness?
A twisted or locked neck
Some people suddenly wake up one morning to find their neck twisted to one side and stuck in that position. This is known as acute torticollis and is caused by injury to the neck muscles.
The exact cause of acute torticollis is unknown, but it may be caused by bad posture, sleeping without adequate neck support, or carrying heavy unbalanced loads (for example, carrying a heavy bag with one arm).
Wear and tear in the neck
Sometimes neck pain is caused by the “wear and tear” that occurs to the bones and joints in your neck. This is a type of arthritis called cervical spondylosis.
Cervical spondylosis occurs naturally with age. It does not always cause symptoms, although in some people the bone changes can cause neck stiffness.
Nearby nerves can also be squashed, resulting in pain that radiates from the arms, pins and needles, and numbness in the hands and legs.
Most cases will improve with treatment in a few weeks.
Whiplash is a neck injury caused by a sudden movement of the head forwards, backwards or sideways. It often occurs after a sudden impact such as a road traffic accident. The vigorous movement of the head overstretches and damages the tendons and ligaments in the neck.
As well as neck pain and stiffness, whiplash can cause tenderness in the neck muscles, reduced and painful neck movements, and headaches.
Neck pain caused by a squashed nerve is known as cervical radiculopathy. It’s usually caused by one of the discs between the bones of the upper spine (vertebrae) splitting open and the gel inside bulging outwards on to a nearby nerve.
The condition is more common in older people because your spinal discs start to lose their water content as you get older, making them less flexible and more likely to split.