By: Emily Zhang
In Chinese, people call stiff neck lao zhen (落枕), which literally means “falling off the pillow.” People usually believe this is caused by improper sleeping positions and should improve after a day.
In Western medical practice, this phenomenon is called a stiff neck. Other causes related to stiff neck include injuries from falling, getting hit, or soreness from turning your head too many times. For example, sudden head-turning to check your blind spots while driving, or moving your head up and down during swimming. Other posture-related issues leading to stiff neck can result from using your computer or cell phone in an uncomfortable position for an extended time period. Violin players can also get stiff neck after practicing for a long time.
When having stiff neck, some people might just feel slight discomfort, but others might experience more severe sharp pains, which could prevent them from moving their heads at all.
Most of the time, if people get stiff neck due to sleeping positions, the symptom usually goes away by itself after one day or two. Over the counter pain medicine and hot/cold pads can help. Because of the discomfort, some people choose not to move their neck or even use their neck collar to hold the neck position. However, doctors would suggest that a patient should move their neck normally if possible.
Usually, people don’t need to see a doctor for stiff neck. However, if it lasts over a week, or it is accompanied by other severe symptoms such as fever, headache, nausea or vomiting, you should call your doctor right away.