What Does Meningitis Neck Pain Feel Like?

Meningitis is an infection of the meninges, the thin membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. It is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection. One of the common symptoms of meningitis is neck pain and stiffness. Here is what meningitis neck pain may feel like:


The neck pain associated with meningitis is often felt at the back of the neck, along the spine. It can spread to the head and shoulders as well. The pain and stiffness can make it very difficult and uncomfortable to move the neck from side to side or up and down. Simply turning the head can be excruciating.

Nature of Pain

The neck pain is often described as a severe, deep, aching pain. It may feel like a cramp or tightness in the neck muscles. The pain is usually worse when moving the neck and better when the neck is immobilized. It can get bad enough that even light touch or pressure on the neck is intolerable. Lying still with the neck propped up on pillows may provide some relief.

Other Associated Symptoms

Along with neck pain and stiffness, meningitis also causes other symptoms like high fever, severe headache, nausea and vomiting, light and sound sensitivity, and altered mental status. The headache is often worse at the front of the head. The neck pain and stiffness may appear along with the headache or follow it.

The neck pain can vary from mild soreness to severe pain depending on the type of meningitis. Bacterial meningitis tends to cause more severe symptoms compared to viral meningitis. The neck pain typically lasts for 2-6 days as the infection runs its course. It may take a few weeks for it to resolve completely.

When to Seek Medical Care

It is important to see a doctor right away if you develop fever and neck pain along with symptoms like headache, nausea, light sensitivity, or confusion. Meningitis is serious and can rapidly progress over hours or days. Quick diagnosis and treatment are crucial, even if it ends up being just a regular viral infection. Call emergency services or go to the ER immediately if the neck is so stiff that the chin cannot touch the chest, or you develop a blotchy rash.

While many viral or muscle-related conditions can cause neck pain, the combination of severe neck stiffness and other flu-like symptoms should raise suspicion for meningitis. Seeking prompt medical care can prevent serious complications like brain damage and permanent neurological disability. Let your doctor determine if you need further testing or treatment for meningitis. With appropriate care, the infection can clear up, along with the miserable neck pain.