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What Are the Treatments for a Cold with a Stiff Neck?

Dan Harkins
By
Updated Feb 26, 2024
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Fighting a cold can be monotonous enough without the additional strain of a stiff neck. Cold and influenza viruses regularly come with symptoms of pain, not just in the neck but throughout the body. If the pain is specific to a certain region of the neck, or if the stiff neck does not subside with other cold symptoms, however, it could be an indication of a more serious problem like tonsillitis or meningitis. Such serious conditions will require specialized treatment and medication.

A cold with a stiff neck is most often treated with a heating pad and over-the-counter medication. The selection of available cold remedies often include a pain reliever to battle headaches as well as a stiff neck. Common names of commercial pain medications include ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and naproxen. Often, the swelling of nasal passages and a sore throat may combine to leave the neck feeling stiff. The combination of decongestants, antihistamines, and pain relievers, along with a heating pad applied to the sore neck, should alleviate the problem.

Persistent headaches and stress can cause the neck to become stiffer, and strenuous activity is another common cause. This pain could worsen with nasal congestion and a sore throat. If using a pain reliever, cold remedy and heating pad does not seem to work, more concerted medical attention might be needed.

A person may think he or she is suffering from a cold with a stiff neck and actually be experiencing the symptoms of a much more serious condition. The symptoms for viral or bacterial meningitis are very similar to influenza and will require specialized medication and intravenous hydration. It is possible to have sinus problems simultaneously that could lead someone to believe a cold is the only problem.

Tonsillitis can also cause this symptom. The neck will tend to be sore only along one side, however, with the body naturally favoring the other side by turning the head. These pains will be more pronounced after sleep and could require prescription-strength pain medication or even a tonsillectomy.

Even more serious problems could cause the symptoms of a cold along with a stiff neck. Neck cancer, tumors of the spine, brain aneurysms, fibromyalgia, and heart disease could all cause persistent neck pain, and these pains could then be intensified with the onset of a cold or flu. When someone suffers a serious cold with a stiff neck for longer than a week, medical attention should immediately be sought.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Dan Harkins
By Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins, a former military professional, brings his diverse life experiences to his writing. After earning his journalism degree, he spent more than two decades honing his craft as a writer and editor for various publications. Dan’s debut novel showcases his storytelling skills and unique perspective by drawing readers into the story’s captivating narrative.
Discussion Comments
By donasmrs — On Mar 22, 2013

@fBoyle-- I was also going to recommend massage. After a nice massage, when you're neck has warmed up, rotate your head to the right and left and then in circles. Do this slowly because you don't want to make any sudden movements and hurt yourself.

Some light stretching by extending your neck upward is also helpful. And make sure you're sleeping on a nice pillow. I think memory foam pillows are the best for neck stiffness.

By discographer — On Mar 21, 2013

@fBoyle-- Try applying a heat pad on your neck. Heat can loosen up the stiffness. Heat applied to the neck also does wonders for headaches caused by a cold. A hot shower can do the trick too.

If someone can do light massage on your neck with a massage oil like lavender, that can relieve stiffness as well. You can apply camphor balm or other topical analgesics with menthol to relieve the pain.

If you have a throat infection though, stiffness and pain probably won't go away until the infection is treated. Have you seen a doctor? You might be in need of antibiotics, so make sure to see one if you haven't.

By fBoyle — On Mar 21, 2013

I have a cold with a sore throat and stiff neck. My neck is in so much pain, I can barely move it. I've been taking pain relievers but it hasn't helped much. Is there any home remedy that I can do for my stiff neck? Please respond soon!

Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins, a former military professional, brings his diverse life experiences to his writing. After earning his...
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