COVID-19 Symptom: Stiff Neck
Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team
- Muscle pain is a common symptom of COVID-19, and for most people, muscle pain concentrates in the neck, shoulders and back which can lead to a stiff neck.
- Other conditions, such as muscle strain, injury, poor posture, or arthritis, can cause neck pain or stiffness
- Mild cases of neck stiffness can be treated with rest, gentle stretches, and over-the-counter pain relievers
- A stiff neck may be caused by inflammation or the virus binding to certain muscle receptors
The neck is a remarkable structure, containing intricate anatomical components that enable vital functions such as breathing, swallowing, and speaking - all while supporting the head’s weight. It’s no wonder that neck pain is a common ailment experienced by more than 3 out of 10 individuals yearly.
One of the possible causes of stiff neck or neck pain can be COVID-19. Generalized aches, which can include pains and stiffness in the neck, are common symptoms reported with COVID-19. This article will explore the relationship between COVID-19 and neck stiffness and pain, including the possible causes and treatments.
Is a stiff neck a sign of COVID-19?
Many different conditions can cause a stiff and sore neck, one of them being COVID-19. It often is caused by painful muscles. Stiff and sore muscles with COVID can occur in any body muscle, although the most frequent locations of this stiffness are the neck, shoulders, and back.
Muscle pain, also called myalgia, can be experienced with any coronavirus variant and mainly affects adults. Although muscle pain is more likely to be experienced in severe cases of COVID-19, it can also occur in mild cases, and it’s not an indication of a positive or negative outlook of the disease.
A headache and a stiff neck are also closely connected. It’s known that headaches are another frequent symptom of COVID-19, so they can often appear together. Besides that, the tension of the neck muscles can be associated with tension of the head muscles as they’re closely connected. These sore head muscles may give you a headache. 1 2 3
The cause of these painful muscles may partly lie in the ACE-2 receptors in the muscles. The coronavirus has an affinity to bind to these receptors, through which it can enter the cells and cause damage. However, more research is needed to understand how the coronavirus interacts with ACE-2 receptors and affects muscle and joint cells. Myalgia also has other pathomechanisms, the same ones that apply to all febrile infections.
Another reason that a stiff neck is a common COVID-19 symptom is that the muscles are affected by the body’s inflammatory response to the coronavirus. A fever, for instance, often goes hand in hand with some shivering, which causes the muscles to do a lot of small movements. As a consequence, the muscles may feel sore and stiff. 1
How long does a stiff neck with COVID-19 last?
A stiff neck because of COVID-19 usually goes away on its own after a few days or weeks. If you were confined to a bed during your illness, it’s essential to know that a stiff neck may last a while longer, as this means that you’ve been inactive for some time. If you still have a stiff neck after an infection with the coronavirus, you may have symptoms of long-COVID. In that case, you should consult your doctor for monitoring and treatment.
What else can cause a stiff neck?
- Sleeping in an uncomfortable position
- Bad posture
- A pinched nerve
- Muscle spasms
- Arthritis, which is an inflammation of the joint
- Ruptured or herniated disk
- Cervical spondylosis, which is a degeneration of the bones of the neck and the disks that are between them, which puts pressure on the spinal cord
- Fibromyalgia, which is a condition that is characterized by muscle pain and stiffness, with localized tenderness in the body.
It’s always important to monitor your stiff neck. You should contact your doctor if: 5
- You’re still experiencing pain after a few weeks
- Painkillers don’t work
- You feel pins and needles or if you have a cold arm
- Your stiff neck is accompanied by confusion and vomiting
If you’re experiencing a stiff neck and you think that it might be from COVID, then the best way to know is to get tested.
How can you treat a stiff neck with COVID-19?
A stiff neck because of COVID usually goes away on its own, although there are a few things that you can do to ease your pain: 5
- Take a painkiller such as ibuprofen or paracetamol
- Do not hold your neck too still; it’s better to keep your neck moving
- Use heat or cold packs on the painful muscle
- Sleep on a low, firm pillow
- Avoiding activities that aggravate the pain by holding the neck as still as possible isn't helpful. Instead, it's better to keep your neck moving with light activity
It may also be beneficial to consult your doctor or a physical therapist who may suggest stretching and strengthening exercises for the neck and upper back, or further muscle-relaxing medication. 6
A stiff and sore neck is a frequent symptom of an infection with the coronavirus. It usually goes away on its own after a few days or weeks but it can cause you pain and inconvenience in the meantime. To ease your pain, you can try to apply heat or cold to the affected area, take a painkiller and try not to hold your neck too still.
Q: Can COVID-19 affect your neck?
A: COVID-19 is known to cause various muscle aches and pain, and it can affect the neck muscles, causing neck stiffness and pain.
Q: Is shoulder pain common with COVID-19?
A: Shoulder pain has been reported in COVID-19 patients, particularly those requiring hospitalization and long immobilization periods. Some people have also reported shoulder pain after receiving COVID-19 vaccines, but this is a rare side effect.
Q: Can COVID cause one-sided neck pain?
A: There have been reports of COVID-19 patients experiencing one-sided neck pain, although it’s more common for the virus to cause general muscle aches and pain. There have also been rare reports of one-sided neck pain as a potential side effect of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Q: Why does COVID cause a stiff neck?
A: A stiff neck from COVID may result from the virus attaching to specific muscle receptors, acting as gateways for viral entry into cells and causing damage. Additionally, muscle pain, including a stiff neck, can also occur due to the immune system's response to the virus, for example, by fever and shivering muscles.
Q: When should I see a doctor about my stiff neck from COVID?
A: In rare cases, neck pain or stiffness can indicate a more severe condition, such as meningitis. Seek immediate medical attention if you are experiencing additional symptoms like a severe headache, severe dyspnea, high fever, nausea or vomiting, light sensitivity, confusion or difficulty concentrating, or rash or other skin changes.