A chronic stiff neck can have many potential causes, including certain long-term illnesses such as fibromyalgia, injuries that cause damage to the muscles, and sleeping on bedding that doesn’t provide adequate support. Treating chronic stiff neck problems often depends on the severity, and may include using heat or ice on affected area, over-the-counter pain relievers, stronger narcotic medications, physical therapy, and massage therapy. Those with sudden stiff neck problems should contact their physicians, as these can be signs of a serious spinal injury or infection.
Coping with a chronic stiff neck can impede everyday activities. Aside from causing constant pain, a stiff neck limits mobility. If the condition reduces the ability to adequately turn the head, it can even affect the ability to drive. Finding the best treatment option may take time, and may require alternating the options to avoid further complications, such as dependency on a narcotic medication.
Depending on the cause of a chronic stiff neck problem, heat or ice may help relieve some of the pain and stiffness. Ice is usually used when inflammation is causing problems, as it helps reduce swelling and shrinks the blood vessels. If the stiffness is related to tight muscles, heat may help. Heat should not be used when swelling is present, however, as it can worsen the condition. Both ice and heat should not be used for longer than 20 minutes at a time, and measures should be taken to protect the skin from extreme temperatures.
Over-the-counter pain relievers may help relieve some of the pain associated with a chronic stiff neck. These medications should be taken only as directed, as serious complications can occur from overuse. In some cases, stronger prescription pain medications may be required. These medications are often highly addictive and should be reserved for times when the pain is at its worst.
Physical therapy may be used alone or in conjunction with other chronic stiff neck treatments. The primary goal of physical therapy is to help bring back as much mobility to the head and neck as possible. Physical therapy can often make the stiffness and pain feel worse at first, as the muscles may not be used to doing so much work, but after time the stiffness may diminish and the patient is better able to cope with the accompanying pain.
Massage therapy may also help relieve chronic stiff neck problems, but the results are usually temporary. For those with medical problems, it is important to use only trained and licensed massage therapists, as they are more likely to be aware of the best methods to use depending on the cause of the condition. Like physical therapy, massage therapy is often used in conjunction with other types of treatments.