How to Get Rid of a Stiff Neck: 6 Effective Remedies (+ When to See a Doctor)

how to get rid of stiff neck

Picture this: you wake up in the morning with a stiff neck, and suddenly, the simple act of turning your head becomes a challenge for the rest of the day. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? It's a common issue that happens to everyone, but the good news is that there are effective remedies out there to bring you some much-needed relief.

A stiff neck can occur due to various reasons, such as poor posture, muscle strain, and even stress. While it might be a minor annoyance for some, for others, it can truly disrupt their daily lives.

If you're currently dealing with a stiff neck or simply want to prevent it from happening again, you're in the right place. In this article, we'll explore 6 effective remedies that can help alleviate the pain associated with a stiff neck — including the best neck stretches, topical solutions like CBD muscle gels, and professional treatments. Let's dive in!


What Causes a Stiff Neck? 

Studies show that up to 50% of the population experiences neck pain at least once a year, which is no surprise since the causes are often a part of our everyday lives. The most common causes of a stiff neck are: 

  • Bad posture or ergonomics — when we slouch or hunch over, the weight of our head is not evenly distributed, which puts extra pressure on the neck. In fact, sitting at a desk for long periods of time is a major risk factor for neck stiffness, and research shows that neck pain is more common for desk workers.
  • Poor sleeping position — sleeping in an awkward position or with too many pillows can cause your neck to be bent at an unnatural angle, which can misalign the spine and neck and lead to muscle spasms and pain.
  • Overuse — strenuous workouts or activities like gardening can cause fatigue and tension in the neck, and may even cause small tears in the neck muscles.
  • Stress — stress, anxiety, and depression can cause poor posture, clenched jaw, and tightness in the shoulders that can build up to cause pain in the neck. Cortisol, the hormone associated with stress, can also cause muscle tension and tightness.
  • Neck injury — injury or trauma to the neck, such as whiplash, can lead to pain and stiffness.  


Other conditions that cause neck pain:

Although neck pain is common and not typically a sign of anything serious, there are a few medical conditions that can lead to neck pain, including:

  • Osteoarthritis — a degenerative joint disease that affects the cartilage in joints and can cause pain, stiffness, and decreased mobility in the neck.
  • Cervical herniated disc — a displacement of the soft tissue or nucleus of a spinal disc in the neck region, which can cause pressure on the spinal cord or nerves, leading to pain, numbness, weakness, or tingling in the neck, arms, or shoulders.
  • Fibromyalgia — a chronic condition that causes widespread pain and tenderness throughout the body, as well as fatigue, sleep disturbances, and other symptoms.
  • Meningitis — meningitis is a serious infection that causes inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, causing your neck to become stiff and painful. It can be a life-threatening condition, so if you have a stiff neck along with a high fever, seek medical attention immediately. 


how to help a stiff neck


Identifying Neck Pain: Pinched Nerve vs. Strained Muscle 

There are 2 common types of neck pain: a pinched nerve or a strained muscle. In mild cases, both can be treated at home with some simple remedies and stretches, but it's important to know the difference as a more severe pinched nerve will likely require medical attention. Here's the difference:

  • Muscle strain — a muscle strain happens when a muscle or tendon is stretched or torn. This can cause pain, stiffness, and limited range of motion in the neck. The muscle pain can be sharp or dull, it might be accompanied by muscle spasms, and your neck may be sore to touch. 
  • Pinched nerve — a pinched nerve happens when a nerve is compressed or squeezed by surrounding tissues, such as bones, muscles, or cartilage. This compression can cause sharp burning pain, numbness, or tingling. If left untreated, a pinched nerve can lead to long-term nerve damage and chronic pain. 
So, if your neck pain is dull, throbbing, or aching, it's probably a muscle strain. If the pain has a sharp tingling sensation, it's more likely to be a pinched nerve. You can treat a pinched nerve with the treatments recommended below, but if the pain continues for more than a few weeks, it's best to consult a doctor.


Neck Pain Treatment & Remedies

Here are the best tried-and-tested remedies for neck stiffness and pain: 

1. Apply Heat or Ice

Applying heat or ice to the affected area can provide temporary relief for neck stiffness and pain. Heat increases blood flow and relaxes muscles, while ice reduces inflammation and numbs pain.

You can apply heat to your neck with a heat pack, a warm towel, or a hot muscle gel, which will help relax tight muscles and alleviate neck strain. To help numb the pain, apply ice using an ice pack, a cold muscle gel, a cold compress, or even a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel.

It is important to alternate between heat and ice therapy and not apply either for too long to avoid skin damage. It's best to stick to applying alternating heat or ice for 10–15 minutes at a time, 3 times per day. Read our guide to hot and cold therapy for more tips on using heat and ice for neck pain.

2. Use Topical Pain Relief Gels

Topical pain relief gels are a fast and effective solution for neck pain. They work by penetrating the skin and targeting the pain receptors in the affected area. These gels are a good solution for neck muscle pain because they can be applied directly to the affected area, providing targeted relief without the potential side effects of oral pain medication. Additionally, they are non-invasive and can be used in conjunction with other pain management techniques.  

You can use common pharmaceutical options like an ibuprofen gel or look at natural alternatives like CBD pain relief gels. CBD is a natural compound that has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, which can help to reduce pain and inflammation in the affected area. Unlike ibuprofen, CBD does not have any known side effects, and it's not addictive. Additionally, CBD gel is non-greasy and absorbs quickly into the skin, providing fast and effective relief without leaving a residue.  

HEMPE Hot Muscle Gel delivers powerful pain relief by combining CBD with other key natural ingredients like clove, menthol, and eucalyptus. Its stimulating warming effect can help ease tension and release stiff neck muscles, and you can feel it working almost immediately after application.

Try it alone or in conjunction with the HEMPE Cold Muscle Gel as a form of hot and cold therapy.

Learn more in our guide to Topical vs. Oral Pain Relief

3. Try Some Gentle Neck Stretches

Gentle stretching and range-of-motion exercises can help increase blood flow, improve flexibility, and reduce pain in your neck. For neck pain, it's best to do gentle stretches that don't cause further discomfort.

Some effective stretches include: rotating your neck slowly to one side and holding for 10 seconds, then repeating on the other side; tilting your head to one side and gently pulling down with your opposite hand to stretch the opposite side of your neck; and gently rolling your shoulders forward and backward to release tension.

It's important to approach these stretches slowly and mindfully, avoid sudden movements, listen to your body, and stop if they make the pain feel worse.  

4. Get a Massage

Massage therapy can help relax the muscles in your neck and improve blood flow, which can reduce pain and stiffness.

A massage therapist will use various techniques such as deep tissue massage, trigger point therapy, and myofascial release to alleviate your symptoms.

how to fix a stiff neck

5. Use Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers

Over-the-counter pain relievers can help alleviate the pain associated with a stiff neck by reducing inflammation and blocking pain signals to the brain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, are effective pain relievers that also reduce inflammation. Acetaminophen is another common pain reliever that can help with mild to moderate pain.

It's important to follow the recommended dosage on the label and to talk to a doctor if the pain persists or worsens. It's also worth considering natural pain relief solutions, particularly if your pain is chronic. 

6. See a Physiotherapist

Physical therapy or chiropractic care may be recommended for more severe or chronic cases. Physical therapy can help relieve a stiff neck by improving your range of motion, strengthening your neck muscles, and reducing pain. A physical therapist will create a customized program that targets your specific needs — this may include a combination of neck exercises, realignment, and posture fixes. 


How to Prevent Neck Stiffness 

Of course, prevention is better than cure! Here are some simple ways to prevent neck stiffness:

  • Practice good posture — maintain a straight spine, keep your shoulders relaxed and down, and avoid slouching or hunching over.
  • Take frequent breaks — if working at a desk or computer, stand up and stretch for 5 minutes at least once every hour.
  • Stretch regularly — try to stretch your neck and shoulder muscles regularly.
  • Find a good sleeping position — use a low, firm, and supportive pillow while sleeping
  • Practice proper muscle recovery — stretch and rest to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), strains, and tension after any workout that puts pressure on your neck, shoulders, or back. 


Posture Tips & Exercises for Neck Pain


  1. Fix Your Desk Setup

The easiest way to avoid the common "tech neck" pain is by practising good ergonomics.

Make sure your chair is at a comfortable height so that you sit with your feet flat on the ground and your thighs parallel to the floor (your knees should be at a 90-degree angle). Keep your back and neck straight and avoid slouching. Keep your computer screen at eye level to avoid looking down and straining your neck.


how to treat stiff neck


  1. Stretch Your Neck

Stretching your neck can help relieve tension and reduce pain. Sit up straight, take a deep breath, and slowly turn your head to the right until you feel a stretch. Hold this position for 10 seconds before repeating it on the left side.

You can also slowly tilt your head to the right and left to feel a stretch on the opposite side of your neck.


  1. Shoulder Shrugs

Shoulder shrugs can help relieve tension in your neck and shoulders. While sitting or standing, lift your shoulders up towards your ears and hold for a few seconds before releasing them down.

Repeat this exercise 10 times.


  1. Chin Tucks

Chin tucks help stretch the muscles at the back of your neck and improve posture. While sitting or standing with good posture, slowly bring your chin down towards your chest without tilting your head forward.

Hold this position for a few seconds before slowly lifting your head back up.


  1. Wall Angels

Wall angels involve standing with your back and arms against a wall and slowly raising and lowering your arms as if making snow angels.

This exercise helps improve posture and stretch your chest and back muscles.  


how to ease a stiff neck


When To See Your Doctor 

Although it can be uncomfortable, a stiff neck is usually not a serious medical issue and can be treated with the above remedies like rest, heat therapy, and over-the-counter pain medication.

However, there are some situations when a stiff neck can be a sign of a more serious underlying condition. Here are some tips on when to seek medical advice.


If Your Stiff Neck is Accompanied by Other Symptoms

If your stiff neck is accompanied by other symptoms such as a fever, headache, or nausea, it could be a sign of a more serious condition such as meningitis.

Meningitis is an infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord and can be life-threatening if left untreated.

Seek medical attention immediately if you experience these symptoms along with a stiff neck.


If Your Stiff Neck is a Result of an Injury

If your stiff neck is a result of an injury such as a fall or car accident, you should see a doctor right away.

Injuries to the neck can cause damage to the spinal cord or nerves, which can lead to long-term complications if not treated promptly.


If Your Stiff Neck is Persistent

If your stiff neck persists for more than a few days despite home remedies such as rest and heat therapy, it could be a sign of an underlying medical condition such as arthritis or a herniated disc.

These conditions can cause chronic pain and require medical attention to manage.


If Your Stiff Neck is Accompanied by Difficulty Moving

If your stiff neck is accompanied by difficulty moving your head or neck, it could be a sign of a more serious condition such as a spinal cord injury or a pinched nerve.

Seek medical attention immediately if you experience these symptoms.


Surgical Treatments for Chronic Neck Pain

Most cases of neck pain and stiffness can be fully treated with home remedies, physiotherapy, or chiropractic solutions.

However, in some severe cases, your doctor may explore surgical solutions with you. These may include:

  • Cervical Fusion — a surgical procedure that involves fusing two or more vertebrae in your neck to reduce pain and improve stability. This procedure is usually recommended for patients with severe neck pain or spinal cord compression.
  • Discectomy — a surgical procedure that involves removing a herniated disc that is pressing on a nerve in your neck. This procedure can help relieve pain and improve mobility.
  • Foraminotomy — a surgical procedure that involves removing bone or tissue that is compressing a nerve in your neck. This procedure can help reduce pain and improve mobility.


Bottom Line on Neck Stiffness

Dealing with a stiff neck can be a real pain, but fortunately, there are effective remedies to provide you with the relief you need. Most cases can be treated at home with some simple stretching, topical treatments, and painkillers. 

HEMPE's range of CBD pain relief gels is a perfect solution for common aches and pains like this. Infused with CBD — a natural anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and anti-bacterial, agent — along with natural ingredients like clove, menthol, eucalyptus, and peppermint, they can deliver fast and effective pain relief without any of the side effects of pharmaceutical alternatives. 

HEMPE CBD Hot & Cold Muscle Gels are also non-greasy and absorb quickly, leaving no residue behind.



Still curious? Learn more in our Guide to CBD for Pain Relief.

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