What Is the Connection between Strep Throat and a Stiff Neck?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
If a person has a sore throat that is accompanied by stiffness in the back of the neck, it may be indicative of meningitis.
If a person has a sore throat that is accompanied by stiffness in the back of the neck, it may be indicative of meningitis.

The connection between strep throat and a stiff neck can depend on other symptoms and the location of the neck stiffness. Some stiffness in the front of the neck can occur with a throat infection because of the inflammation. If patients notice that the back of the neck is stiff and they have trouble looking down or turning the head, this could be a sign of meningitis, a very serious infection. To be on the safe side, patients may prefer to call a nursing hotline or their primary care providers if they notice neck stiffness and aren’t sure whether they should be concerned.

Strep throat commonly causes coughing and pain in the neck.
Strep throat commonly causes coughing and pain in the neck.

Strep throat is a common infection caused by Streptococcus bacteria that colonize the throat, causing symptoms like soreness, pain, and coughing. Some cases resolve on their own but if the symptoms persist for more than three to five days, the patient can get a strep test to check for the bacteria. If it is positive, antibiotics can treat the infection and resolve the inflammation.

It's possible for a stiff neck to occur in tandem with a throat infection.
It's possible for a stiff neck to occur in tandem with a throat infection.

If a patient has strep throat and a stiff neck develops, this could a result of inflammation caused by the infection. The soreness and stiffness should be located in the front of the neck, and the patient should still be able to move without extreme pain. As the bacteria die off, the stiffness and swelling should also resolve. It can help to drink plenty of fluids to promote immune health, and some patients may want to use hot or cold packs on the throat, depending on which make them feel more comfortable.

Children with a stiff neck and other symptoms should be evaluate immediately to rule out meningitis.
Children with a stiff neck and other symptoms should be evaluate immediately to rule out meningitis.

If a person has a strep throat and a stiff neck that is primarily stiff in the back, it is a cause for concern. In cases of meningitis, bacteria penetrate the meninges of the central nervous system, and can cause a severe infection that may lead to complications like coma and death. Stiffness associated with meningitis tends to be more painful and limits range of motion; people may find it extremely difficult to look down towards their bellies, for instance, because of the tightness in the neck.

Gargling with warm salt water may help soothe a sore throat.
Gargling with warm salt water may help soothe a sore throat.

Streptococcus can sometimes cause meningitis infections, and is a potential concern with strep throat and a stiff neck. While this complication is very rare, it can be a concern in cases where patients have compromised immune systems or a recent history of surgery on the central nervous system. In these instances, patients and their families should already be aware of their increased risk of infection and the appropriate steps to take to prevent complications like meningitis. For example, a cancer patient who develops a sore throat would report it to a medical provider to get treatment, rather than waiting for it to resolve.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon966551

I had strep a few months ago with pain that I thought was in my ear, but it was on the back of my neck at the base of my skull. Now about five months later, I am experiencing a stiff neck again in the same area. I have had no other signs of illness of any kind and have not had any injury. Sometimes in the afternoons I feel like I have a slight fever, but no sore throat or coughing or sneezing.

bluedolphin

@SarahGen-- I took my son in for strep throat and he did receive treatment for it. His stiff neck developed a whole week after his antibiotic treatment! I took him back in and it turns out that the infection was not gone. The first round of antibiotics weren't enough to treat it and he had to be given a higher dose. He also had a fever.

So the strep throat and stiff neck don't have to occur at the same time. The stiff neck can develop later and the only way to know is to keep a close eye on the child. Thankfully, we have a great pediatrician who will pick up calls any time of the day.

SarahGen

@ZipLine-- I completely agree with you. My cousin had meningitis as a child and has a mild form of mental retardation because of it. They didn't get her treated in time. It's very sad. Stiff neck is one of the symptoms of meningitis.

ZipLine

Stiff neck is never a good symptom when there is an ongoing infection. Stiff neck due to injury is different. If the neck feels stiff during an infection, that's a sign that the infection is getting worse. This symptom should never be ignored.

I had stiff neck once from strep throat and I went to the hospital right away. I was put on strong antibiotics, as well as pain relievers. The doctor told me to come back if the stiff neck doesn't go away. Once the antibiotics kicked in, I felt considerably better.

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    • If a person has a sore throat that is accompanied by stiffness in the back of the neck, it may be indicative of meningitis.
      By: rob3000
      If a person has a sore throat that is accompanied by stiffness in the back of the neck, it may be indicative of meningitis.
    • Strep throat commonly causes coughing and pain in the neck.
      By: zebrik
      Strep throat commonly causes coughing and pain in the neck.
    • It's possible for a stiff neck to occur in tandem with a throat infection.
      By: Monkey Business
      It's possible for a stiff neck to occur in tandem with a throat infection.
    • Children with a stiff neck and other symptoms should be evaluate immediately to rule out meningitis.
      By: Cheryl Casey
      Children with a stiff neck and other symptoms should be evaluate immediately to rule out meningitis.
    • Gargling with warm salt water may help soothe a sore throat.
      By: taka
      Gargling with warm salt water may help soothe a sore throat.