What Causes a Cough and Stiff Neck?

Sandra Koehler
Sandra Koehler
A cough and stiff neck may occur as a result of the common cold.
A cough and stiff neck may occur as a result of the common cold.

A stiff neck — or problems moving the neck due to pain or discomfort — can be the result of extreme tension within the muscles of the neck. This problem may also be the byproduct of a problem in another area of the body such as the shoulders, arms, or head, in the form of a headache that travels into the neck area. Symptoms that include a cough and stiff neck, on the other hand, may be the body’s way of warning that there is a serious problem in the body threatening the body’s overall well being.

Coughing is the body's attempt to clear the airways and ride the body of extra secretions.
Coughing is the body's attempt to clear the airways and ride the body of extra secretions.

Pain and tightness in the neck can be triggered by an injury such as a muscle sprain or strain resulting in minute tears in the fibers of the muscles, tendons or ligaments. In turn, this causes inflammation, which causes swelling in the area. Once the muscles are injured, as a protective mechanism, the body can react by bringing about a continual firing of the muscle fibers, referred to as a muscle spasm. Spasms, or the persistent involuntary contraction of a muscle, can “lock” the muscles, producing pain and an unwillingness or an inability to move the neck through its normal range of motion, thus protecting the area from further damage.

Combining a cough and stiff neck may be a warning sign that something more serious is wrong with the body.
Combining a cough and stiff neck may be a warning sign that something more serious is wrong with the body.

Common respiratory illnesses, such as the common cold, bronchitis, sinusitis and pneumonia can cause a variety of symptoms including a productive cough and stiff neck. When the body is invaded by contaminates, either viral or bacterial in nature, the body responds by producing excessive mucous. Coughing can be brought on by the body's attempts to clear the airways and rid the body of the extra secretions. Stiffness in the neck can be bought on by the continual stress on the neck area from the excessive coughing. However, when a cough and stiff neck are accompanied by other symptoms, such as fever, vomiting, and a headache, it may be more than a simple infection process.

A stiff neck combined with coughing and flu-like symptoms could be symptoms of meningitis.
A stiff neck combined with coughing and flu-like symptoms could be symptoms of meningitis.

A serious medical illness in which a cough and stiff neck — along with other flu-like symptoms — are present is a condition called meningitis. Meningitis is an infection process that affects the brain by causing inflammation of the covering around the brain, called the meninges. In some cases, meningitis may also affect the spinal cord. If left untreated, meningitis may cause other health problems such as an increase in the risk of seizures, a condition where there is an extreme amount of electrical activity in the brain causing it to “seize” up. Another complication of meningitis is the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome, a condition in which excessive fluid buildup causes the inability to breathe properly thus jeopardizing overall wellbeing.

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Discussion Comments

DanceShiya
Several types of meningitis exist, yes? Do all cause a stiff neck and cough? I have heard that bacterial meningitis is the most dangerous. Is this correct?
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    • A cough and stiff neck may occur as a result of the common cold.
      By: inesbazdar
      A cough and stiff neck may occur as a result of the common cold.
    • Coughing is the body's attempt to clear the airways and ride the body of extra secretions.
      By: Ljupco Smokovski
      Coughing is the body's attempt to clear the airways and ride the body of extra secretions.
    • Combining a cough and stiff neck may be a warning sign that something more serious is wrong with the body.
      By: Monkey Business
      Combining a cough and stiff neck may be a warning sign that something more serious is wrong with the body.
    • A stiff neck combined with coughing and flu-like symptoms could be symptoms of meningitis.
      By: vladimirfloyd
      A stiff neck combined with coughing and flu-like symptoms could be symptoms of meningitis.
    • Children under the age of five face a high risk of contracting meningitis-related infections.
      By: Dmitry Naumov
      Children under the age of five face a high risk of contracting meningitis-related infections.
    • Many people with a stiff neck find taking a warm bath to be helpful.
      By: Andres Rodriguez
      Many people with a stiff neck find taking a warm bath to be helpful.