Is Neck and Shoulder Stiffness a Symptom of Long COVID?

Many people who have recovered from COVID-19 continue to experience lingering symptoms for weeks or months after the initial infection has passed. This condition is commonly referred to as “long COVID” or “post-COVID syndrome.” One of the many symptoms reported by long COVID patients is neck and shoulder stiffness.

Neck and shoulder pain is not an official symptom of long COVID according to leading health organizations like the CDC and WHO. The most common long COVID symptoms are fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, joint pain, chest pain, cognitive dysfunction, depression, muscle pain, fever, and headache. However, many long COVID patients report experiencing neck and shoulder stiffness, pain, and reduced mobility even after recovering from the acute infection.

There are a few reasons why long COVID may cause neck and shoulder discomfort:

  • Inflammation – COVID-19 triggers a major inflammatory response in the body that can persist for weeks or months after the infection. This inflammation may affect soft tissue and joints in the neck and shoulders leading to localized pain and stiffness.
  • Muscle deconditioning – Being sick in bed for weeks can cause muscles like those in the neck and shoulders to weaken and tighten up. Returning to normal activity with deconditioned muscles may result in muscle tightness and spasms.
  • Nerve dysfunction – Emerging research indicates COVID-19 may cause peripheral nerve damage. The phrenic nerves which innervate the diaphragm run through the neck and may be affected, causing referred pain.
  • Stress and anxiety – High levels of mental stress are common following a COVID-19 infection. Tension and poor posture from stress can overload the neck and shoulder muscles.
  • Medical interventions – Intubated COVID-19 patients often develop neck stiffness from being immobilized. Prone positioning (lying on the belly) may also strain neck muscles.

While not everyone with long COVID will have neck and shoulder problems, it is clearly a common concern reported by survivors. If you are experiencing chronic stiffness or pain in your neck or shoulders following COVID-19, consult your doctor. Manual therapy, physical therapy, pain medication, and stress management may provide relief. Be sure to communicate all of your symptoms to your healthcare provider so proper treatment can be administered. With time and treatment, the nagging achiness in the neck and shoulders should gradually improve in most long COVID patients.