Stiff Neck, Crick in the Neck and Relief

3 common symptoms of a crick in the neck

Most of us are familiar with a stiff neck or crick in the neck: That strange stiffness that prevents you from comfortably moving your head and neck. A crick in your neck can cause your cervical spine to feel stiff, rigid and immobile, which can be extremely bothersome. Fortunately, several treatments can help—many you can do right at home.
Female tailor holding her neck, in painThere are many different causes of a stiff neck or feeling a crick in your neck. Sometimes the cause is a combination of things—things you can control and those you can’t.

Is a crick in the neck the same as a stiff neck?

A crick in the neck is also known as a stiff neck. It can develop when your neck muscles, tendons or ligaments somehow get strained/sprained. Usually, most strains and sprains are considered minor injuries that cause inflammation or swelling of the neck’s soft tissues resulting in stiffness and, sometimes muscle spasms.

What are the symptoms of crick or stiff neck?

While cricks in the neck are uncomfortable, they’re not necessarily painful. However, if you already have a neck condition or injury (eg, whiplash), you may find that a crick in the neck and stiffness increases your pain. The 3 most common symptoms of neck cricks include:

  1. Stiffness felt in the neck and its muscles.
  2. Reduced mobility affecting the neck’s range of motion, such as not being able to completely turn your head to look over your shoulder.
  3. A popping sensation in your neck when its moves a specific way.

What can cause a stiff neck or crick in the neck?

There are many different causes of a stiff neck or feeling a crick in your neck. Sometimes the cause is a combination of things—things you can control and those you can’t.

Potential causes of a crick in the neck that you can control include:

  • Poor posture while engrossed in computer work for hours at your desk.
  • Sleeping in an awkward position and/or using a pillow that does not properly support your neck during rest.
  • Tech neck” or consistenly looking down at your cell phone or tablet.
  • Stress and emotional tension can cause you to involuntarily tighten muscles in your neck and shoulders.
  • Heavy labor and/or awkward lifting that doesn’t incorporate use of good ergonomics.
  • Reaching or looking overhead for an extended period of time (eg, painting a celing).

Potential causes of a stiff neck and/or neck crick that are out of your control include:

  • Whiplash injury
  • Sports-related injury (eg, football spearing, stinger)
  • Growing older

In about 15% of cases,1 stiffness and/or neck pain is caused by a separate cervical spine condition, such as:

Can I treat neck stiffness and cricks at home?

In most cases, a crick in the neck will go away within a few days without the need to visit your doctor or chiropractor. While bothersome and sometimes painful, the home remedies listed below may help alleviate neck stiffness and that crick in the neck feeling.

Alternate cold and heat therapy: Cold therapy (cryotherapy) can help reduce swelling of soft tissues, such as muscles and ligaments, while heat (thermotherapy) soothes tight stiff muscles by boosting circulation to the area.

There are many different products available that can deliver cold or heat to your neck and upper back areas. When using ice or a cold product (eg, bag of frozen peas), wrap it in a towel to prevent direct skin contact.

  • Cold therapy can be applied for 15 minutes each hour.
  • Heat therapy (eg, heating pad) can be applied for 15 minutes every 2 or 3 hours.

Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen (Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) may help relieve inflammation and pain.

Gentle neck stretches and exercises: Cervical stretches and exercises can help ease muscular tension and muscle spasm, strengthen muscles, and improve neck flexibility and range of motion.

Fortunately, cricks in the neck are rarely serious and often go away within a few days. However, there are symptoms to heed that indicate you should see your doctor as soon as possible. Such symptoms include: stiffness increases, pain worsens, fever develops, balance problems, and/or you experience weakness, numbness or tingling sensations.

How can I prevent a crick in the neck?

Because cricks in the neck are closely linked to lifestyle choices, you may find that you get them repeatedly. Simple neck stretches, massage therapy, investing in a supportive pillow, and taking frequent breaks from your computer at your desk job may help prevent neck stiffness and keep you moving comfortably.

Updated on: 06/12/18
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