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What are the Most Common Causes of a Stiff Neck and Nausea?

By Barbara Bean-Mellinger
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Most cases of a stiff neck and nausea are caused by stress and anxiety. When a person is under stress, he may slump or clench his shoulders while awake, and toss and turn or grind his teeth in his sleep — or be unable to sleep — all of which can lead to a stiff neck. If he then skips breakfast, or rushes through a fast food meal for lunch, he may experience nausea. Nervousness in general may cause him to be unable to eat, and he may then become nauseous soon afterward.

Drugs taken for any reason can cause an upset stomach, so if a person takes a drug to ease stress, anxiety, depression, or any other malady, it may cause nausea. Alcohol and excess caffeine, both of which people often seek out during times of stress, can cause an upset stomach and overactive nerves as well, which may lead to clenched shoulders and a stiff neck. Holding the head and neck in one position for a long period of time, as people do when slumped over a desk or computer, can also cause pain and stiffness.

Although stress and anxiety are the major causes of a stiff neck and nausea, both could be caused by many other illnesses that should be considered. A simple cold or flu can cause both symptoms. If a severe headache accompanies the other symptoms, it may be categorized as a migraine. If a high fever is present, meningitis is a possibility. Brain tumors, cancer and other serious and even life-threatening illnesses can also be the cause. In these cases, however, additional symptoms are normally present. Therefore, it’s important for individuals to pay attention to any and all symptoms and report them to a medical professional.

When suffering with a stiff neck and nausea, the first question for a person to ask is how long the symptoms have been present. If stress, anxiety or depression may be the cause, steps should be taken to ease the condition so it doesn’t become chronic and lead to additional, more serious problems. The solution may be as simple as buying a new pillow that cradles the neck for a more comfortable sleep, allowing more time for meals so hunger doesn’t lead to stomach upset, and adding periods of relaxation to the day. If the symptoms persist, worsen or become acute, individuals may want to visit a healthcare professional.

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Discussion Comments
By honeybees — On Apr 22, 2012

I think stress is probably one of the biggest reasons people suffer from nausea and a stiff neck.

When my parents had some major health problems, there was a lot of stress in my life. I was carrying a heavy load and would worry about a lot of things.

I knew that my whole body was tense and tight. I started getting frequent headaches and neck pain because of the stress.

I also was not eating very healthy. Many days I didn't have the time to think about what I was eating and ate whatever was available. Other days, nothing really sounded good so I wouldn't eat much at all.

Neither of these is a good way to deal with the stress. I also feel myself getting an upset stomach when I am very worried about something.

Things are not as hectic now, and I am working on finding better ways to deal with my stress.

By sunshined — On Apr 22, 2012

I never had headaches until someone rear-ended me when I was sitting at a stop light. Even though I was not moving, I was hit hard enough that I had whiplash.

This has caused a lot of health problems for me that I never had before. Before I started getting regular chiropractic treatments, I had constant neck pain.

This neck pain would lead to headaches that would be so intense I would feel nauseated and sick to my stomach. Getting treated on a regular basis has made a difference, but there are still days when this really bothers me.

This has been going on now for a few years and I often wonder if it will ever be the same again. Now I can really sympathize with those people who have struggled with headaches for so long.

By julies — On Apr 22, 2012

@Mykol - I also have trouble with migraines. They say many people have some kind of warning they are starting to get one.

If I start feeling dizzy and the room feels like it is spinning around, I know I will probably have a migraine in the next few hours.

What I have also found strange, is many times I have a stick neck that goes a long with this. I don't understand why there is a connection between a stick neck and a migraine, but this happens often.

It usually happens when I have been under a lot of stress and my whole body is probably very tense. Having neck pain and dizziness for me often leads to a bad headache.

Sometimes I have vomiting with a headache if I don't get it taken care of soon enough. I have always said that people who don't have migraines don't really understand how miserable they can be.

By Mykol — On Apr 21, 2012

I have a long history of headaches and migraines. It is not unusual for a bad headache and nausea to happen at the same time.

Sometimes I get a headache because I have not eaten any food. This leads to nausea and the only way I can get rid of the headache is to sleep it off.

I also toss and turn in my sleep a lot and there are times when I wake up with a stiff neck. When this happens, I usually have a headache that goes along with it.

I don't know if I have a headache because of my stiff neck from tossing and turning, or if I was sleeping restless because I had a headache.

Either way, this is never a good way to start the day. A couple of pain relievers usually help before I head out the door, but I never feel very good when I wake up with a headache and stiff neck.

By Oceana — On Apr 20, 2012

@Perdido – Starting a new job can really wreak havoc on the body. I had problems with a stiff neck and nausea when I started a new desk job, though the alcohol that the stress caused me to consume was really to blame.

Every day seemed like a tough one. The work was hard and complicated, and sometimes, people were mean to me. Every night, I would go home and drink until I got sleepy.

The alcohol made my stress go away temporarily, but I would wake up feeling really sick at my stomach. My neck would be stiff because I had passed out in a weird position without my pillow, and this would make work even more miserable.

By shell4life — On Apr 19, 2012

I stayed with my sister for a month before moving into my own place, and I had a stiff neck most of the time from sleeping on a pillow that didn't cradle my head properly. I didn't really notice it before falling asleep, but every morning, I would wake up in pain.

I also experienced nausea after breakfast for about a week. I think this was because she fed me sausage or bacon and waffles every day, and I was used to eating cereal and fruit. All the fat and sugar was just too much for my stomach.

So, though I had a stiff neck and nausea at the same time, the causes weren't related. I didn't have enough money for a new pillow, but I did manage to buy some cereal and blueberries, and that took care of the nausea.

By Perdido — On Apr 19, 2012

I had to deal with extreme nausea and a super stiff neck for months after starting a new job. I held all my tension in my shoulders and neck, and by the end of the day, the area would be so tight and achy. I also felt really sick every morning, and I think that this was because my body was trying hard to adjust to my new life.

I bought some anti-nausea liquid and kept it at my desk. I took it whenever a wave of sickness came over me, and it helped. I also drank peppermint tea every morning to soothe the nausea.

For the stiff neck, I stuffed some rice inside an old towel and sewed the edges shut. I would stick it in the microwave until it got hot, and then, I would lay it across my shoulders. I could manipulate it into any position that I needed, and the heat really relaxed my stiff muscles.

By OeKc05 — On Apr 18, 2012

Nausea and a stiff neck can be symptoms of a brain aneurysm. My mother experienced these symptoms, along with sensitivity to light and a terrible headache.

Her doctor told her he wanted to do a CT scan to see if she had an aneurysm. He found that she had, and he did surgery. He had to use a metal clip to cut off the blood supply to the aneurysm, and to do this, he had to remove part of her skull.

It was the most invasive surgery she has ever had, but it saved her life. He put her skull back together, so she didn't have a gaping wound or anything. This just goes to show how important it can be to go to your doctor with strange symptoms.

By turquoise — On Apr 18, 2012

I have been getting neck pain, nausea and dizziness this week, but they're caused by different things. I think my pillow is causing my stiff neck, or maybe the position I fall asleep in. Because my neck is just fine before I go to sleep but when I wake up, it hurts and I can't seem to move it too well.

My nausea and dizziness is actually side effect of one of the medications I'm taking. It's a diabetes medication that I just started recently and it's giving me nausea, vomiting, dizziness and bloating. It's supposed to go away when I get used to the medication.

By serenesurface — On Apr 17, 2012

I have these symptoms right now because of a viral infection. I went to the doctor yesterday because of stiff neck, fever and nausea. She did a lab test and didn't find a bacterial infection. Plus, I had a fever of 102 which suggests a viral infection.

Anyway, I'm in bed now, taking fever reducers and pain relievers. I can't do much else other than get plenty of rest, fluids and eat comforting foods for my stomach. The pain relievers are helping with my neck pain and headache but I have to be careful not to take too much because it makes my nausea worse. I only take it with food and I'm eating small amounts of mashed potatoes and applesauce only. I also had some ginger tea today, it's really great for nausea.

My fever is down now but if I don't take a fever reducer, it seems to go up. If my symptoms don't get better in a couple of days, my doctor wants me to go back in for more testing. She said they will need to check for meningitis in that situation. That sounds scary! I hope I get better by then.

By ddljohn — On Apr 17, 2012

Stress is the cause of my stiff neck and nausea. When I get stressed out, I have several symptoms that come about at the same time. One is stiff neck probably because the tension causes me to clench the muscles in my neck. I also have high blood pressure and stress increases my BP so that could be another reason.

After I get a neck pain and stiffness, headaches and nausea usually follow. I get an upset stomach and feel nauseated when I smell any food. And then the clenched muscles in my neck seem to interrupt blood flow to my head and I get a terrible headache (or migrane).

When I get these symptoms, I check my blood pressure first and take medication if it's high. Massage is great for stiff neck so if my husband or daughter are around, I have them give me some light massage on my neck with a massage oil. Then I follow up with a hot shower and some herbal tea to relax my nerves. This seems to be the best treatment and both the stiff neck and the nausea go away after I follow this routine.

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