Are you tired of dealing with a stiff, tense neck that impedes your mobility and affects your ability to perform basic activities? It may sound like a small matter, but a stiff neck can dramatically impact your quality of life if left unmanaged. How long does a stiff neck last, anyway?
In the hustle and bustle of daily life, it is often easy for us to slip into poor posture habits as we slump over a computer, cell phone or other electronic device for hours on end. In this article, we want to try to answer for you the question: "How long does a stiff neck last?" To do so, it's important to evaluate the factors involved that could be contributing to your distress and what, if anything, you can do to ease your discomfort.
What Is a Stiff Neck?
Before we can answer the question of "how long does a stiff neck last," we must first define exactly what the physical condition of a stiff neck is, so we're all on the same page.
A stiff neck usually stems from muscles that have weakened over time from ongoing strain or bad posture. Ill-formed habits, such as being hunched over a computer all day at work, sitting in the car for long periods of time or looking up and down from a mobile device can all cause constant tension and strain on the muscles in our necks, eventually dislodging our neck joints.
As your neck muscles weaken and the struggle to turn the weight of your head increases, your neck joints fail to function properly and may move out of their regular alignment. For instance, a joint could get caught, straining a muscle or nerve, or a combination of each.
With this type of joint displacement, you will feel pain and spasms that cause your neck muscles to tighten up as a protective mechanism. Once these muscles are locked up around the injured area, it makes it difficult to move at all and leaves you puzzled over why you're suddenly stiff and hurting.
How long does a stiff neck last? Well, that depends on the primary cause.
It's important to recognize that in today's society, much of our neck pain goes back to our constant use of technology — especially mobile devices we hold in our hands and look down toward. Using such devices creates a situation ripe for bad posture and neck strain as it is all too easy to slump over these devices or tilt our necks awkwardly. We may not even realize we're doing it because we're so preoccupied with something else.
Other potential causes of stiff neck pain include clenching or tightening of the jaw, ongoing stress and anxiety, and repetitive, strenuous neck movements. If you recently suffered a neck or spinal injury, or have osteoarthritis, these are situations which will inevitably result in a stiff neck.
There are preventative measures you can take to ward off a stiff neck and to improve your current situation.
It is always, without fail, a good idea to practice good posture. Be mindful to keep your head and neck aligned with your spine when using a computer or a mobile device. If you find yourself forgetting often or regularly, then put that electronic device to work for you! Schedule yourself some friendly reminders to uphold good posture.
If you work at a desk sitting in front of a computer all day, then this can increase your likelihood of having a stiff neck. Try to keep your chair in an ergonomically sound position, with your feet on the floor and your knees just slightly below your hips. Sit up straight with your arms at the same level as your desk and make sure your computer is always in line with your line of sight.
Good posture isn't enough. Be sure to stand up, stretch and walk around every hour.
When using your mobile device, try to keep it at eye level when viewing it and not positioned pinched between your ear and shoulder when you're on a call. Instead, use headphones or earbuds. Be sure to step away from the phone every hour and stretch your muscles out after a period of ongoing use.
Not all bad habits are formed with the help of technology. Some happen when we're just driving. Try to avoid being in the car for long periods of time. If you have a long commute or a job that requires you to be in the car for considerable stretches, try to maintain good posture. Be sure to have your seat in a way that offers you support and do not use your phone to text when on the road. Texting while driving is not only illegal and risky, but it can leave you asking "how long does a stiff neck last?"
How Much Does It Cost?
When we consider how long does a stiff neck last, we discover that your discomfort may resolve itself after a few days. In such scenarios where the stiffness is temporary, you may expend little to no cost. Some simple stretches at home, applying ice and heat, and/or using an over-the-counter pain medication might suffice.
However, if the pain does not go away after a few days, or you notice discomfort and tension developing in other areas of your body, you need to bring a medical professional into the mix. Depending on your insurance plan and the treatment your doctor recommends, you might face out-of-pocket health care costs.
Determining how much your stiff neck will cost you is dependent on the treatment you will pursue and what your individual insurance policy will cover. To reach a diagnosis of the root cause of your stiff neck, your doctor might order a CT scan, followed with a prescription of some anti-inflammatory medication.
If your stiff neck requires further treatment, such as through chiropractic care or another form of therapy, there may be some additional costs involved. Inform yourself about your insurance plan's deductible, co-pay costs, what providers and procedures are covered and what your out-of-pocket maximum might be.
How Long Does a Stiff Neck Last & How to Handle the Pain
When to See a Doctor
As a rule of thumb, when you wonder how long does a stiff neck last because your discomfort has not abated within a few days, that's when you should make an appointment to see your doctor. There may be a more serious underlying condition, or you might require stronger medication.
Heat or Ice
How long does a stiff neck last? An excellent remedy to try to shorten its duration is to alternate between heat and ice applications on the inflamed area. Use ice for 20 minutes at a time and then apply a heating pad to the area for another 20 minutes throughout the day.
Over-the-Counter Pain Medication
When trying to cut down on the time a stiff neck lasts, there are some excellent over-the-counter pain medications you can try. Medications like Motrin, Advil, Aleve and Tylenol are good options to try for lessening pain and reducing the severity of the stiff neck's symptoms. Whichever non-prescription pain killer you choose, we implore you to follow its directions to the letter. Take no more than what the instructions state and keep track of the dosing times. Write them down if you need to.
Whatever your daily habits might be, make time for stretching. Some simple exercises include gently turning your head to each side, rolling your shoulders, touching your ears to your shoulders, and squeezing your shoulder blades together a few times. These can shorten the time frame of you wondering how long does a stiff neck last, and help you prevent further irritation.
When you stretch, be sure to do so gently and slowly. Don't make quick movements that could cause strain. Take a warm shower, sit in a hot tub for 15 minutes or use a heating pad before you stretch to loosen up your muscles.
Massage and Acupuncture
When you consider how long does a stiff neck last, you should think about how alternative therapy options could reduce your suffering. Massage therapy from a licensed, trained professional can release tension and help stretch out the muscles in your neck and back.
Acupuncture is a treatment option during which needles are placed on particular pressure points throughout your body. This can be an excellent way to relieve the tension of a stiff neck. Be sure to only seek treatment from a certified professional who uses antiseptic needles.
Treatment from a chiropractor can lessen the duration of your stiff neck and related pain effectively. Chiropractors work with your joints and muscles to ease your pain and tension, providing palpable relief. The process of receiving chiropractic treatment may cause discomfort, at least initially, so be sure to confer with your doctor to discern the option that is best for you.
Alter Habits and Activities
When your stiff neck arises after doing a physical activity that causes strain, lay off that activity until your condition improves. If you have ongoing neck issues, avoid heavy lifting or similar activities that could make matters worse.
On a separate note, changing your habits may also mean working to lower the stress and anxiety in your life. Not only does stress detrimentally influence your overall health, but it can cause your neck muscles to tighten. When going through a stressful period, try listening to relaxing music, meditating or taking a small break from that difficult environment.
How long does a stiff neck last? Not as long if you exercise. When you built your muscular strength, it promotes better posture. If you are going through a stressful time, then exercising is a great way to release tension.
Work on Your Sleep Habits
Your sleep habits directly impact how long does a stiff neck last. Sleeping in a way that increases the likelihood of neck strain can easily make you wake up in the morning with pain and regret. Consider choosing a firmer mattress to sleep on or select a pillow designed to relieve neck pain. Either will promote better support and sleep. Additionally, adopt a sleeping position on your side or back instead of your stomach, because this will also improve a stiff neck.
You don't want to find out firsthand how long does a stiff neck last. If you want to prevent suffering from a stiff neck, then you can work on frequently stretching and avoiding the formation of bad posture, despite whatever technology you may have in hand.
If you're one of the unlucky ones, however, and are suffering from a tight, tense, painful stiff neck right now, then do what you can to alleviate its symptoms. Try alternating heat and cold spot treatments, improve your sleep habits, be sure to stretch slowly and frequently, and use an over-the-counter pain medication. If the pain doesn't subside in a few days, then it's time to see your doctor.