Some people may experience a sore throat that occurs along with a stiff neck. There are a few reasons why these symptoms may occur together, such as injury or infection. It’s also possible that a sore throat can cause a stiff neck, and vice versa.
Read on to learn more about the connection between these two ailments, how they can be treated, and when you should call your doctor.
Your neck contains many anatomical structures, including but not limited to your:
Therefore, a condition that affects one structure can also go on to affect others.
- A bacterial infection that begins in the throat can invade the deeper tissues of the neck, causing neck pain or stiffness.
- A tumor in the neck can cause irritation in the throat while pressing on other nearby tissues, leading to neck pain.
- An injury to the neck may strain muscles, causing neck pain and stiffness. If it affects the area of your throat, you may also experience some soreness.
- Some viruses that affect the throat, such as Epstein-Barr, can also cause viral meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms can include a stiff neck.
Sore throat symptoms
Although the specific symptoms of a sore throat depend on the condition that’s causing it, some common sore throat symptoms are:
- feelings of pain or scratchiness in the throat
- worsening pain when swallowing or talking
- hoarse voice
- tonsils that are red, swollen, or have white patches
- swollen lymph nodes in the neck
Stiff neck symptoms
The symptoms of a stiff neck can include:
Many things can cause you to come down with a sore throat. Some of the potential causes include:
Viruses are often the cause of many sore throats. Some common examples of viral illnesses that can cause a sore throat include:
Bacterial infections can also cause sore throat. Often, these infections are caused by a type of bacteria called group A Streptococcus. When group A strep infects the throat, it’s called strep throat.
An abscess is a pocket of pus that can be found in or on the body. Peritonsillar abscesses can form behind the tonsils as a complication of tonsillitis. They’re often caused by an infection with group A strep.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Certain environmental factors can also irritate your throat, causing it to become sore or scratchy. Some examples include air that’s too dry or exposure to cigarette smoke.
Strain or injury
You can hurt the muscles of your throat through overexertion, like yelling or talking for a long time without a break. In addition, an injury to your throat, such as swallowing a foreign object, may also lead to throat irritation and soreness.
Various cancers can affect the area of the head and neck, including the throat. One of the symptoms of throat cancer is a sore throat that won’t go away. Others to look out for include a lump or mass in the neck, breathing trouble, and headaches.
Many of the causes of neck pain are due to issues with the surrounding muscles, nerves, or joints. However, other conditions can cause neck pain as well.
The muscles of your neck can become strained or overworked in several ways. Some examples include bad posture and holding your head in one position for too long.
Injury to the neck may happen through things such as falls or accidents. One injury in particular is whiplash, during which your head is rapidly jerked backward and then forward.
A pinched nerve is when too much pressure is placed on a nerve by the tissue around it, leading to sensations of pain or numbness. Nerves in your neck may become pinched because of bone spurs or a herniated disc.
As you age, the cushioning between your joints wears down. This is called osteoarthritis. When this occurs in your neck, it can cause pain and a decrease in range of motion.
Diseases or conditions
A variety of diseases or conditions can also cause neck stiffness or pain. Some examples include:
There are a number of things that you can do at home to help ease the symptoms of a sore throat:
- drinking plenty of fluids to keep hydrated
- sucking on throat lozenges, hard candies, or ice cubes
- gargling with a warm salt water solution
- sipping on warm liquids such as soups or tea with honey
- using a humidifier or spend time in a steamy bathroom
- avoiding irritants like cigarette smoke or other types of air pollution
- using over-the-counter (OTC) medications to ease pain, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen
If a bacterial infection is causing your sore throat, you’ll need to be treated with antibiotics. When your doctor prescribes you antibiotics, you should always finish the entire course, even if you start to feel better after a few days.
If you have a stiff neck, there are some things that you can do at home to help relieve it:
- taking OTC pain relievers, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen
- alternating hot and cold treatment by using an ice pack or trying a heating pad or warm shower
- trying exercises or stretching, such as bringing your shoulder slowly to your ear or rolling your shoulders
- gently massaging sore or painful areas
In cases of more moderate to severe neck pain, your doctor may prescribe stronger pain medication or muscle relaxants. Other possible treatments for more severe or persistent neck pain can include:
- physical therapy
- transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
- steroid injections
You should also contact your doctor if neck pain:
- is severe
- lasts several days without going away
- also includes symptoms like headache or numbness
- spreads to other parts of your body, such as the arms and legs
Other throat or neck symptoms that you should see your doctor promptly for include:
- difficulties with breathing or swallowing
- unusual drooling, usually in children
- high fever
- joint pain
- swelling in the face or neck
- a mass or lump in your neck
Meningitis may begin with flu-like symptoms and progress to other symptoms such as stiff neck and a sudden high fever. Other meningitis symptoms to look out for include:
- severe headache
- sensitivity to light
- nausea or vomiting
- feeling very tired or sleepy
- skin rash
Meningitis is potentially life-threatening. You should always seek immediate medical care if you experience symptoms.
Sometimes you may experience a sore throat and stiff neck at the same time. This may be due to several things, including injury, infection, or cancer.
Whether they occur together or separately, there are many things that you can do at home to relieve a sore throat or a stiff neck.
However, if you find your condition worsens or persists, you should see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment. Your condition may require prescription medications.