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Cricked Neck

Cricked Neck

There are a lot of important muscles that surround your neck and shoulder blades. These muscles allow you to perform neck movements. The continuous use of the muscles makes you prone to muscle spasms. Chronic neck stiffness gives rise to a persistently stiff area in the lower neck. The affected area then presents itself as chronic pain. This condition of neck pain induced by chronic neck stiffness is called a crick in your neck. The disorder is also known as a stiff neck.

It can be the outcome of sleeping in an awkward position or maintaining a poor posture. However, a crick in your neck with red flags should not be ignored as it may point towards some serious condition.

Role Of Neck Muscles

Muscle strain and soft tissue sprains are common in the cervical region. The mean prevalence of neck pain due to musculoskeletal issues was 14.4%. Strains of the neck muscles contribute greatly to neck pain globally.

Stiff muscles reduce your range of motion and make the neck achy on movement. The levator scapulae muscle, which connects the shoulder to the cervical vertebrae, is most susceptible to injury. Symptoms appear when muscle spasms develop.

Crick In Neck Vs. Typical Neck Pain

A crick in your neck differs slightly from the usual neck pain from minor injury and trauma. A crick in the neck makes your neck structures stiff, making movement hard for you. Crick neck patients are annoyed at the stiffness of the neck rather than the neck pain. Unlike typical neckaches, the discomfort of a crick in your neck isn’t sharp.

While neck pain can be due to some underlying serious pathology requiring specialized medical attention, a crick in the neck is mostly managed effectively with home treatment.

Signs And Symptoms

Neck Stiffness

The chief complaint of neck crick patients is stiffness. Sideway movement is restricted due to painful contraction of the muscles. It can be unilateral or bilateral, depending on the sides of the body involved. In extreme cases, it may cause tilting of the head towards one side (torticollis). In one clinical study, a child with a crick in the neck presented with torticollis and fever.

Neck Pain

Dull neck pain is almost always present in cases of a neck crick. A crick in your neck usually involves muscles surrounding the neck and shoulders; muscle pain is felt in different areas. Many patients complain of shoulder pain, while others experience discomfort in the upper back.

According to studies, acute unilateral neck pain with restricted motion of the head and neck is always present in cases of a crick in the neck. The pain and stiffness are not correlated with the inflammation of the neck joints.

Other symptoms include reduced range of motion. Patients suffer from restricted head and neck motion, which gravely affects the quality of life.

What Are The Possible Causes Of A Neck Crick?

A crick in your neck is mostly due to acute disturbances of the cervical spine balance. In rare instances, a crick develops due to some serious underlying pathology. The most common causes of neck cricks are discussed below:

Abnormal Posture

The most prominent contributor to the crick in your neck is the smartphone. The gadget ties our necks and eyes to the screen, making us forgetful of the consequences. The persistent forward position of the head makes you prone to neck spasms and pain. Research shows a link between forward head posture and neck pain.

Very rarely is a crick in the neck a consequence of serious underlying pathology. The less common causes of neck crick include:

Spinal Cord Changes

Spondylosis is a disease of intervertebral disc degeneration. It is an age-related issue that restricts the movement of the neck. Arthritis is a chronic condition that destroys and inflames the joints. Cervical arthritis (of the spine) can contribute to neck stiffness.

Spinal stenosis is a disease of the spine that causes the narrowing of the spinal canal. This condition can put pressure on the spinal nerves. Prolonged, untreated spinal stenosis can lead to muscle weakness and fear of pain and, thus, be a source of neck crick.

A herniated disc can rarely cause neck cricking. However, the compression of a cervical nerve can prevent unrestricted movement of the neck. Thus, a herniated disc can indirectly cause symptoms of neck stiffness.

When To Visit A Doctor?

In general, a crick in your neck heals on its own and doesn’t require treatment from a doctor. You may need to visit your healthcare provider if experiencing any serious symptoms along with the cricks. Red flags include symptoms that last for more than 24 hours. You should visit the doctor if experiencing the following symptoms along with neck stiffness:

  • Fever
  • Unexplained headaches
  • Pain radiating to the arm/hand
  • Numbness of the limbs
  • Muscle weakness

Treatment Plan

The main aim of the treatment is to provide relief. There are multiple simple ways to achieve pain relief. The following treatment modalities are effective in managing a crick in the neck:


You can relieve pain temporarily by taking analgesic medicines. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs help lower the inflammation and thus are helpful in bringing down any associated pain. Painkiller medicines are indicated in cases of neck pain only.

Muscle relaxants play a more important role than analgesics. These drugs relax the taut muscles and can help remove the crick in your neck. Conservative management is sufficient in managing stiffness of muscles.

Massage Therapy

As per a systematic review, massage therapy has widespread health benefits ranging from improved mental health to reduced cortisol levels. Massage is one of the best at-home remedies that you can adopt for the crick in your neck. You should massage the head and neck region to release pressure on the stiff neck muscles. If the crick stays for a long period, it also affects the shoulders and the upper back. Thus, you should massage these areas to get complete pain relief.

Carrying out a massage with a stiff neck is impossible, so thatyou can take the help of a family member. However, you nmustbe very careful when stretching and avoid pulling too much because it can lead to serious consequences. In one case study, the patient suffered from vertebral artery dissection and consequent stroke after getting a massage for a neck crick.

Heating Pad

Heat application has been potent in relieving pain from tight muscles. You take away the muscle stiffness and tension by directly applying heat to the muscle fibers.

You can use a heating pad for this purpose. A heating pad is specially designed to retain heat and relieve the pain of muscle spasms. According to a study, continuous low-level heat therapy significantly reduces muscle stiffness and helps relieve back ache. A heating pad at bedtime can do wonders for your tight neck.

According to a randomized controlled trial, heat application (via a heat pad) for around 30 minutes provides relief from acute neck pain and strain. This can be paired up with ibuprofen therapy to yield better results.

Hot Shower

Hydrotherapy is another effective way of releasing muscle tension and improving the symptoms. It is similar to a heat pad, only that hydrotherapy is done with water. Many people across the globe take hot showers/baths to ease their muscles. Thus, the strategy can be adapted to loosen up the taut tissues. Moist heat (warm water bath) can also be beneficial in correcting the neck twists.

Physical Therapy

You can also take help from an alternative medicine specialist for your neck. A chiropractor or a physical therapist physically improves the condition of your spine and muscles by realigning the hard and soft tissues.

Chiropractors and physical therapists are professionals of alternative medicine, specially trained to flush out pain without any surgical or pharmacological intervention.

Physiotherapy amps up the healing process by improving blood flow to the muscles. Studies have revealed that therapy aids in improving the muscle tone while reducing stiffness.

This treatment modality can be super-beneficial for all those suffering from neck complications. Physiotherapy and manual spinal adjustment play important parts in resetting the cervical spine. Clinical studies show that physical therapy improves the quality of life by decreasing stiffness in the paravertebtral muscles.

Stretching The Tight Muscles

Many people believe that stretching helps relieve symptoms and rightly so. Stretching the tight muscle helps breaks the cricks in them. This way you can remobilize the joint and the associated soft tissues.

Gentle stretches can pull you out of restricted neck movement and improve your range of motion. There is a myriad of stretches that you can do to fix the stubbornness of the neck tissues. The best and easiest way of stretching with stiffness is bending your neck backward and forward. The neck extension and flexion will help you increase mobility in the forward-backard motion.

You can also try lateral neck flexion i.e., side-to-side bending and neck rotation (side-to-side turning) for greater relief. You can learn more about the efficient stretches by clicking here!

How To Prevent A Crick In The Neck?

Improve Sleep

The most important change that you need to make in recurrent neck strains is improving your sleep environment. Most of the people use a supportive pillow while sleeping. However, many times the size (height) of the pillow is not optimal. This leads to abnormal stretching and twisting of the neck structures.

So, you need to get the ideal sized pillow and rest the head on a firm pillow. You may use multiple pillows to align the cervical spine in the natural shape.

Strengthen Your Neck Muscles

Weak muscles are prone to damage and twisting. Carrying out strengthening exercises enhances the stability of the cervical muscles. If you are prone to developing neck strains and stiffness again and again, you should make strengthening exercises a part of your routine.

Exercise not only makes your muscles robust but also helps provide relief from acute neck pain. Morning stretches are effective in providing a kickstart to your body.

Modify Your Activity And Posture

Correcting your posture can help you get rid of a lot of health problems. With a correct posture your can keep spine in the right position.Walking, standing and working in the right posture is necessary to keep spine abnormalities at bay.

Work modifications include limiting working duration to safe extents. Avoid sitting for long periods and use a comfortable work environment (desk and table). Try stretching the neck after a long day of work.

Be careful when cracking your neck. Avoid pulling with excessive force to keep the muscles healthy and active.


  1. How do you fix a crick in the neck?Conservative management is the best way to manage a crick. Painkiller medicines are effective in lowering pain associated with stiffness. The taut muscles can be managed well with non-pharmacological therapies such as massage therapy, chiropractic treatment and physiotherapy. Applying heat (heating pad or moist heat) and stretching the neck can also help in alleviating symptoms.
  2. How long does a crick in the neck last?A crick in the neck is a self-limiting condition. In most cases, the condition goes away within a couple of weeks. Following a treatment plan can fasten the process of healing and thus, lower the healing time.
  3. Can you stretch out a crick in your neck?Yes, stretching the neck during a crick is a beneficial activity. It releases the tension of the stiff muscles and improves mobility. You can stretch your neck to achieve pain relief. It also strengthens the muscles, making them resistant to recurrent cricks.
  4. Is a crick in the neck serious?Generally, it isn’t a serious condition. However, in some cases it is the manifestation of a serious underlying complication. You should get yourself checked, if it is accompanied by serious symptoms such as headaches, radiating pain and numbness. It may indicate an underlying spinal pathology.
  5. Why is a crick in the neck so painful?The pain is caused by the affected muscles. Twisting of the neck muscles and soft tissues may result in inflammation. This inflammation leads to neck pain.
  6. Can you massage a crick away?Yes, massage has been proven to be pretty effective in removing cricks from the neck. It lowers the stiffness of then neck and helps you get rid of the crick.

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