Below are some ways to know when a stiff neck might be a symptom of a serious underlying medical condition.
A stiff neck can be annoying, but it is usually not cause for panic. In rare cases, however, it could signal the need for a prompt medical evaluation. If a stiff neck is the result of a condition other than a strain or sprain, oftentimes other symptoms will also be present. In such cases, typically at least one other symptom will develop with or before the stiff, painful neck occurs.
Below are “red flag” symptoms that could indicate a potentially serious underlying medical condition is causing the stiff neck:
- Fever, which likely signals an infection is being fought
- Headache, especially if it seems different from previous headaches in terms of duration, intensity, or accompanying symptoms
- Nausea or vomiting
- Fatigue or unexplained drowsiness
- Change in mental state, which could include confusion or mood swings
- Coordination issues, such as dizziness or problems walking or writing
- Weight loss that is not part of a diet change
These symptoms should motivate the individual to seek immediate medical attention, but they do not necessarily mean a serious condition or medical emergency is present.