Various conditions can lead to a stiff neck with pain, and some of these conditions can be quite serious. If the stiff neck with pain is an isolated occurrence, the pain may go away with rest and immobilization, meaning the condition is relatively minor. This situation may result from overuse of the muscles or a muscle strain, as well as tension in the neck and shoulders from stress or lack of movement. More serious conditions that can lead to pain include arthritis, meningitis, and fractures of the vertebrae in the neck.
If the stiff neck with pain is persistent or overwhelmingly painful, it is important to consult a doctor immediately to find out what the cause of the pain is. Spinal fractures as well as meningitis can be life-threatening conditions, so prompt treatment will ensure the safety of the patient. A vertebral fracture occurs when an impact or compression leads to a crack in the bone. Fractures can be quite small and relatively minor, though others can lead to stiff neck with pain that can result in more serious injuries to the spinal cord or surrounding tissue and nerves. If neurological symptoms are experienced, a doctor's consultation will be necessary immediately.
Meningitis is another common cause of stiff neck with pain, and this is a very serious condition that can be life-threatening. This occurs when the membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord becomes inflamed, leading to pain, headache, fever, or even a loss of consciousness. The brain can be affected fairly quickly from this condition, so treatment should be sought as soon as possible. Neck pain alone may not be enough to indicate meningitis, but chronic or frequent unexplained stiff neck with pain may be an indicator, especially if it is combined with fever or any of the other symptoms of meningitis.
Of course, the stiff neck with pain may simply be the result of a muscle strain due to overuse or improper use of the neck muscles. This can occur during athletic activity, or even if a person holds his or her head in one position for long periods of time. People who work at computers as well as travelers who sit for long periods of time may experience this condition. The symptoms should disappear after several hours or days, and healing time can be improved by resting and icing the affected area of the neck and shoulders.