How to Put an End to Stiff Neck

7 Things to Stop Doing

A stiff neck can be brought on by any number of things, from muscle strain to herniated disc or even an infection. The good news is that most cases of stiff neck are not serious. Just the same, it can hurt as well as disrupt your plans. Not fun.

So why make it worse—or bring it on in the first place—if you don't have to? Here are seven things to stop doing if you want to prevent or manage a stiff neck.

1
Stop Loading Up Your Backpack

A school child wears a back pack.
A school child wears a back pack. mother image / DigitalVision / Getty Images

This lifestyle fix is particularly relevant to students, who these days, tend to be bogged down with some very heavy books in their backpacks. One alternative to heavy text books may be to rent the digital version for the semester. Lugging computers around can be difficult as well. Perhaps it's time for an iPad?

2
Stop Wearing a Shoulder Bag Over One Shoulder

A school boy wears a loose back pack.
A school boy wears a loose back pack. Jose Luis Pelaez Inc. / Blend Images / Getty Images

Alternate the shoulder that supports your bag regularly to affect your posture and muscles as equally as possible. Otherwise, you're likely to create a lot of extra tension in your trapezius muscle on the side you wear the accessory the most. Favoring one shoulder over the other in this way may also affect your spinal alignment—and not for the better.

3
Stop Cradling Your Phone With Your Shoulder

Phone cradling is a surefire way to get neck pain.
Phone cradling is a surefire way to get neck pain. Elizabeth Young/Getty Images

Using a one-ear phone hold is another way to create uneven tension in your neck and shoulder muscles. This, in turn, may make your stiff neck worse, or set the stage for a new one.

4
Stop Stressing Out—or In

Stress often comes from what is known as the "fight or flight" response to a triggering event, where our initial reaction is to either get away from a perceived threat or to obliterate it in order to feel safe again. But in the 21st century, it is not always possible to display a physical or emotional reaction. Such repression may lead you to hold it all inside, or express it in inappropriate ways. Either can cause chronic stress in the muscles, which can have an immobilizing effect (until the stress is released therapeutically.)  

5
Stop Avoiding Movement Breaks Throughout Your Work Day

Woman working from home office
Westend61/Getty Images

​Lack of movement for prolonged periods of time is a risk factor for work related musculoskeletal disorders.  

Work breaks in which you actually do some exercises—perhaps a few neck stretches or upper body strengtheners—can give your static muscles a break from tension and holding; this may help to keep stiffness at bay.

Another way to address static posture at work (and therefore neck stiffness)  is to consciously change positions at least every 20 minutes.

6
Stop Ignoring Your Posture

Posture good and posture not so good.
Posture good and posture not so good. Betsie Van der Meer/Stone/Getty Images

We are all subject to the force of gravity, which tends to compress our spines. Unless you have a plan to deal with gravity, you may, over time, find that your posture sags, and that you have less energy throughout the day.  

But it doesn't stop there. As your body posture becomes more and more compressed, it loses the capacity to support the weight of your head. Because of its location between your head and your upper back, your neck may take the brunt of this lost support. A possible fix is to engage with an exercise program specifically designed to develop posture support.

7
Stop Ignoring the Doctor's Office

Doctor and patient conversation
Doctor and patient conversation. Dan Dalton/Caiaimage/Getty Images

If you have a stiff neck along with a fever, this could be a sign you need immediate medical attention. Both are symptoms of infection, so when they appear together, the odds you've contracted something are higher. Some infections, such as meningitis, can be quite serious. In fact, if not treated early, certain types of meningitis can lead to death or severe damage, including hearing loss. Headaches, nausea, vomiting, night sweats and/or the inability to fall or stay asleep are other symptoms that might prompt you to seek medical attention.

8
Stop Thinking It's OK When It Isn't

A gowned woman sits at the end of an examining table in a doctor's office.
Pain management medicine for the relieve of chronic neck or back pain is a team project. H. Armstrong Roberts/Classic Stock Archive Photos/Getty Images

As I mentioned above, cases of stiff neck generally are nothing to worry about. But if pain and discomfort persists it's best to get it checked. Your doctor can rule out any serious underlying problems by looking for "Red Flags." If an underlying health issue is causing your stiff neck, the sooner you can get it diagnosed and treated, most likely, the better your prognosis will be.

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