Usually, sore and strained muscles are the cause of neck stiffness. The neck is full of tendons, nerves, and muscles, which are used in all sorts of daily activities, making them particularly vulnerable to injury. Neck stiffness can also be a symptom of certain illnesses, some of which can be quite dangerous, and in certain cases, serious conditions like heart attacks can lead to a stiff neck. Experts suggest that the best way for someone to evaluate stiffness in the neck is to look at the set of circumstances that led to the condition, and analyze any other possible accompanying symptoms.
Generally, the most dangerous things that can cause stiffness in the neck include illnesses such as meningitis along with certain cardiac conditions. Usually, someone suffering from meningitis or something similar will also develop a fever and other flu-like symptoms in addition to the neck stiffness. In cases where neck stiffness is caused by a cardiac condition, the person might also have other issues like shortness of breath, numbness, or arm pain. Generally speaking, if someone has a stiff neck, any additional symptoms could be a sign that something more serious than a muscle strain could be responsible. Since many of these issues are potentially dangerous, emergency medical attention might be an absolute necessity.
People strain muscles in their necks in a wide variety of ways, including everything from overexerting in athletic activities, to subtle ergonomic issues, such as bending over too far to read a computer monitor over a long period of time. Sometimes people get a stiff neck simply by sleeping in an awkward position. Minor strains in the neck muscles can be extremely painful, and can make it very hard to move the neck at all, but experts suggest that these injuries usually heal within a few days, rarely requiring medical treatment.
Sometimes a stiff neck can develop after a more serious injury, such as a car accident or a bad fall, possibly resulting in some kind of spinal damage. This kind of strain will generally lead to greater discomfort and there may be additional symptoms for some people, such as paralysis and swelling in the neck. Injuries like these can be very dangerous and will generally require immediate medical attention. When neck stiffness comes from a severe sprain or some kind of spinal damage, neck braces and other healing-aids are often required. In this case, it can take longer for individuals to recover, with some injuries leading to permanent impairment.