How Long Does Stiff Neck on One Side Last?

A stiff neck is a common condition that causes pain and discomfort on one or both sides of the neck. It can make it difficult to turn the head or bend the neck. Stiff neck on one side usually arises from muscle tightness or strains in the neck area. It often resolves on its own within a few days, but the duration can vary depending on the underlying cause.

Causes

There are several potential causes for a stiff neck on one side, including:

  • Sleeping in an awkward position – Sleeping with the neck twisted or bent abnormally can strain the neck muscles overnight. This often leads to morning neck pain and stiffness that is more pronounced on one side.
  • Muscle tension – Extended periods of poor posture, stress, or activities requiring you to hold your neck in one position can create muscle tightness and spasms. This frequently affects just one side of the neck.
  • Whiplash injury – Whiplash from a car accident or sports injury involves sudden neck hyperextension and flexion. This type of trauma can injure the muscles and ligaments on one side more than the other.
  • Pinched nerve – A herniated disc or bone spur in the cervical spine can pinch a nerve. This often radiates pain to one side of the neck.
  • Osteoarthritis – Degenerative bone changes in the cervical spine can lead to inflammation and stiffness more noticeable on one side.

Duration

For the average stiff neck case, the duration of symptoms usually ranges from a few days to a few weeks. Here is a look at the typical timeframe for recovery based on the cause:

  • Poor sleeping position: 2 to 4 days
  • Muscle tension: 5 to 10 days
  • Minor whiplash injury: 1 to 2 weeks
  • Pinched nerve: 2 to 4 weeks
  • Osteoarthritis flare-up: 2 to 6 weeks

Stiffness and pain from minor muscle strains or awkward sleeping typically resolve within several days as the strained tissues heal. With conservative self-care measures, this is often the expected duration.

More severe muscle sprains, whiplash injuries, and pinched nerves can result in stiffness lasting 1 to 2 weeks. Inflammatory healing processes run their course during this time. The nerve irritation and muscle damage begin to subside.

Arthritic neck changes and the associated inflammation tend to run a longer course. It is not unusual for osteoarthritis stiff neck to persist for 2 to 6 weeks before improving.

The duration tends to be on the shorter end of these ranges for those younger than age 50. Older adults typically require more time for stiff neck recovery. Persistent pain beyond the expected timeframe warrants medical evaluation.

Self-Care and Medical Treatment

To alleviate stiff neck symptoms, home care measures are often recommended during the first few days:

If the severe stiffness and pain last beyond 3-5 days, seeing a doctor for evaluation is advisable. They may prescribe stronger anti-inflammatory medication or muscle relaxants. Other potential treatments include:

  • Chiropractic manipulation
  • Physical therapy
  • Trigger point injections
  • Epidural steroid injections
  • Surgery for herniated discs or bone spurs

Proper medical treatment can help expedite recovery when self-care isn’t providing sufficient relief. This helps prevent chronic neck problems from developing. Pay attention to any neurological symptoms like numbness, tingling, or weakness on one side. This may indicate a pinched nerve requiring prompt medical care.

The outlook for most cases of one-sided stiff neck is promising. With a little patience and appropriate treatment, the discomfort and restricted motion tend to resolve within several weeks at the most. Recurring or persistent neck stiffness warrants further investigation to treat any underlying condition.