You may have heard it called a “crick in the neck”, a “crook in the neck”, a “kink in the neck”, or a “crooked neck”. These aren’t medically recognized terms, of course, but they all refer to the same unpleasant thing: a pain in the neck that may leave you feeling like you need to move your neck gingerly. There are a number of ways you can develop a stiff neck, which is often result of a strain or a muscle spasm, although it could be a joint issue as well.
One of the most common causes of neck stiffness actually occurs while at rest: improper sleeping posture can pull your neck out of correct alignment, making it feel stiff and sore when you wake up and start moving around. Many people stack their pillows too high, which is especially damaging when sleeping on your stomach, or they use pillows that don’t provide enough support. Choose a contoured orthopedic pillow, which has deep dents for the head and a curve that supports the underside of the neck, or simply replace worn-out, flat pillows. Sleeping on your back is the best position.
Your posture while active is just as important as when you’re sleeping. Favoring one side of your body when carrying heavy items – and that includes a handbag or a backpack slung over one shoulder – can pull your neck out of alignment, making it (and your shoulders) feel crooked. Distribute weight evenly when carrying a load, try switching off shoulders when you carry bags, and use both straps of a backpack.
Arthritis or a problem with the discs that separate the spinal vertebrae can also lead to pain and stiffness, and in some cases it may feel like a literal creakiness in the neck. Anti-inflammatory medications and cold or hot compresses can help relieve pain, but these joint problems require medical attention for proper treatment.
If you feel like your neck is crooked, stiff, or creaky, try performing some light stretches to gently work the muscles; you can also massage the area, varying pressure depending on the amount of pain. Over the counter pain medications, heat packs, and ice packs can also help relieve the pain of a neck that’s bent out of shape, but for severe neck pain that lasts more than a couple of weeks, consult a doctor.