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Stiff Neck: Pain Patterns and Self-Care

These posts are all related to your painful, stiff neck. Most people refer to the limited, painful rotation when they speak of a stiff neck. However, a small majority of people refer to difficulty in lateral movement (leaning from side to side).

The majority of rotation (about 70%) happens in the joint between the first and second vertebrae, the atlantoaxial joint. Therefore, the majority of trigger points that produce stiffness in rotation attach to these top two vertebrae. The two muscles that most commonly produce sharp pain on rotation are the levator scapula and splenius cervicis. These two muscles originate from below the base of the neck and extend along the side of the neck. Then, they insert on the tips of the transverse processes of the top three or four vertebrae. When both have active trigger points, the neck becomes very painful and stiff. In fact, the pain becomes more sharp and severe when any of the other attachments to C1 and C2 have active trigger points.

The trigger points in this collection are often, but not always, connected to Forward-Head Posture or Cervicogenic Headaches. As a result, you will find a large overlap in these 3 collections.

These posts include:

  • Trigger point patterns and how people describe the pain
  • How you activate and intensify the pain pattern
  • Self-care to show you how to get quick relief on your own
  • Stretches and exercises that provide longer-lasting relief
  • Brief anatomy review of the involved muscle
  • Yoga poses that open this muscle
  • Treatment notes for therapists

Note that we are in the process of converting these posts into a more informative and accessible format. Thank you for your patience.


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Tony Preston has a practice in Atlanta, Georgia, where he sees clients. He has written and taught about anatomy, trigger points, and cranial therapies since the mid-90s.

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*This site is undergoing significant changes. We are reformatting and expanding the posts to make them easier to read. The result will also be more accessible and will include more patterns with better self-care. In the meanwhile, there may be inconsistencies in formatting, content presentation, and readability. Until we get older posts updated, please excuse our mess.