A stiff neck can be annoying and uncomfortable. You take over-the-counter pain relievers and hope the pain goes away. But there are times when your stiff neck can be a symptom of something serious. If the pain persists, it may be time to consult your spinal doctor at the Southeastern Spine Institute (SSI).
Believe it or not, your stiff neck doesn’t always mean that you slept wrong. If it’s the result of something other than a strain or sprain, you may have already noticed at least one of the following red-flag symptoms with your stiff neck:
- Fever that often indicates your body is fighting an infection
- A headache that may feel different – more intense or longer-lasting – from others you’ve had before
- A combination of symptoms, such as if your headache is accompanied by additional symptoms
- Vomiting or nausea
- Drowsiness or fatigue that can come on suddenly and without explanation
- Dizziness or coordination issues that can affect even the most normal activities, like walking or writing
- Unexplained weight loss
- Mood swings, confusion or other noticeable changes in your mental state
These warning signs are potentially serious. Seek medical attention as soon as possible if your stiff or sore neck leads to any of these symptoms.
What This Could Mean
Some conditions related to your stiff neck aren’t something to take lightly. Some of the more common potential problems include:
- Meningitis, a potentially deadly bacterial infection. It causes swelling in your spinal cord and the protective membranes of your brain. Stiff neck, fever and headache are the most common indications of meningitis. If you’re currently experiencing all three, get to a doctor immediately. Other symptoms of meningitis include:
- Sensitivity to light
- Sensitivity to sound
- Your symptoms usually begin a couple days after exposure. But everybody reacts differently. Your symptoms may worsen quickly or develop slowly. A good outcome for meningitis depends on early treatment. Putting it off could result in:
- Brain damage
- Hearing loss
- Other types of infections that cause your neck to be stiff
- Brain tumors and certain other types of cancerous tumors, especially if they’re in your spine or cerebellum
- Bone spurs or arthritis that may be starting to affect your neck.
- Cervical dystonia, a neurological disorder also known as a type of torticollis. It causes uncontrollable muscle spasms in your neck. This can be more severe than simple neck pain. It can cause your neck or head to be stuck in uncomfortable or unnatural positions.
A Matter of Life and Death
So, while a pain in your neck can be a simple matter of poor posture, stress or strain, there are some very specific instances where it isn’t. You probably had a stiff or sore neck a hundred times in your life. But if you’re currently experiencing one that’s a little different or unlike others you’ve had in the past, get to your doctor or pain specialist immediately.
There’s a good chance you’ll be just fine. But considering the seriousness of the other possibilities, it’s in your best interest not to take chances. Your SSI team of professionals can diagnose the source of your discomfort. When so much depends on early treatment, prompt medical attention can mean the difference between life and death.