Most people experience neck pain and stiffness at one time or another. In most cases, it occurs due to muscle or ligament strains. The neck is comprised of tissue, muscles and spinal bones, making it one of the most vital organs of the human body.

Unlike other crucial organs, it’s exposed and at a high risk of injury. Because the neck is constantly in motion throughout the day, it’s prone to straining. Neck pain and stiffness can often be treated using home remedies, but for prolonged or severe neck pain, visiting a doctor is strongly recommended.

The following are seven common causes of neck pain and stiffness:

Cause #1: Acute or Sudden-onset Torticollis

Torticollis is a term used to describe a medical condition that causes the head to twist to one side. Trying to straighten it out can be very painful. Although the cause of torticollis isn’t always known, doctors suspect most cases are as a result of minor muscle or ligament sprains in the neck. Exposing your neck to cold temperatures may also be a possible cause. Torticollis is known to occur overnight in that a person goes to bed without any symptoms but wakes up with a stiff neck.

The pain generally subsides in a few days, and movement returns to normal. In some cases, torticollis can be a symptom of another underlying health issue. This may include infections, tumours or side effects of medication.

Cause #2: Whiplash

Whiplash is a common cause of neck pain and stiffness. It is a type of injury to the neck in which the head is suddenly jolted forward and then back very quickly. The movement is similar to the crack of a whip.

Whiplash is commonly associated with car accidents, but it’s also known to occur to individuals participating in sporting activities or as a result of other sudden movements. Whiplash may result in muscle sprains, injuries or strains to your neck ligaments.

Cause #3: Brachial Plexus Injury

The term brachial plexus is used to define the collection of nerves connecting the spinal cord in your neck to your hands. Other than neck pain and stiffness, a brachial plexus injury may cause pain in the hand. Blunt force trauma is a common cause of brachial plexus injuries, it may happen during sporting activities or a car accident.

Cause #4: Cervical Radiculopathy

Cervical radiculopathy is often referred to as a pinched nerve. It occurs when the nerves in the neck originating in the spine are irritated, causing pain to radiate to the arm.

Although it may result in neck pain and stiffness, its primary symptoms include pins and needles or numbness in the arms, or pain and weakness in some parts of the arm. Cervical spondylosis and neck arthritis are common causes of cervical radiculopathy.

Cause #5: Arthritis

There are two common types of arthritis. The first one is osteoarthritis. It occurs due to wear and tear of the smooth surface of the joints. Osteoarthritis starts in an isolated joint, then the effect is felt gradually with age. It causes stiffness and limited neck movement. The second one is rheumatoid arthritis, which is an immune disorder.

It begins when the immune system starts attacking the body, resulting in extreme neck pain and stiffness. Arthritis can also cause narrowing of the spinal canal, which will result in a pinched nerve that leads to neck stiffness, and pain in the legs and arms. You should visit a chiropractor regularly for physiotherapy treatments.

Cause #6: Poor Sleeping Positions

Most people have experienced a stiff or sore neck after waking up. There are several factors that may lead to this. For people who sleep on their stomach, their neck may remain twisted to the side for the whole night, causing the neck muscles to strain and lead to a sore neck.

Another poor sleeping position involves lying with your neck slanting forward where the head lies in front of the shoulders. Using a hard, firm mattress and pillows may also cause neck pain. It exerts stress on your back and neck, making it hard for the spine to sustain its natural curve. Feathery pillows and foam mattresses offer less tension to the body while you sleep. These pillows cradle the head and relax the neck and spine. Sleeping on the back, or the side, is advised to avoid neck pain.

Cause #7: Muscle Sprains and Strains

Muscle strains are caused by stretching and tearing of neck muscles and tendons. A sprain can either be grade I, which means the tear is partial; grade II, where more muscle fibers tear, causing moderate pain and muscle weakness; or grade III, where the entire muscle is torn, leading to severe pain. Neck sprains result from injured ligaments, which, in turn, leads to a decrease in the neck’s range of motion.

Neck strains and sprains may also happen as a result of heavy lifting, poor posture, stress, activities that require frequent neck movement such as swimming, or staring at a monitor for a long time. This may cause problems while chewing, breathing, swallowing, headaches, muscle spasms, numbness, or tingling. Most muscle sprains and strains heal on their own after a few days.

Neck pain can radiate into connected areas like the head, jaw, back and shoulders. If symptoms persist, seek medical attention.