Author: Zawn Villines
Some people with COVID-19 experience neck pain, soreness, and stiffness. In some cases, neck pain can be a persistent symptom of long COVID.
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Muscle pain is one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19. It is usually mild and will go away in a few days, but rarely, it may signal a serious complication, such as meningitis.
COVID-19 symptoms vary from person to person and will depend on whether someone has received vaccinations, which strain of COVID-19 they have, and whether they have any other health conditions.
For instance, a person who already has muscle or neck pain may find that it worsens when they develop COVID-19.
Usually, people can manage COVID-19-related neck pain at home. If they have severe symptoms or if their pain does not resolve, they should seek medical care.
Read more to learn about the link between neck pain and COVID-19, how to manage it, and more.
Muscle pain is one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19. According to a 2020 literature review, 11–62.5% of people with COVID-19 had muscle pain and soreness. Additionally, 10–15% of people experienced joint pain.
For many individuals, muscle pain concentrates in the neck, shoulders, and back.
More recently, a 2022 study compared COVID-19 symptoms when both Delta and Omicron were the dominant variants, respectively. The researchers found similar rates of joint and muscle pain for both variants. More than 40% of people reported joint pain, and about 30% reported muscle aches.
There are two main causes of COVID-19-related muscle pain, including neck pain.
The virus may bind to angiotensin converting enzyme 2 receptors in the muscles. This directly affects each muscle and can cause soreness and pain.
Additionally, experts think inflammation in the muscles can cause pain. When a person has a fever, the body’s immune system triggers a cascade of reactions that promote inflammation. Although this can help fight an infection, it can also lead to widespread muscle pain.
COVID-19 may also indirectly cause muscle pain. If a person stays in bed for days when they are ill, their muscles may feel stiff and sore.
Less often, people develop neck pain for other reasons.
For example, a 2020 case report followed a person hospitalized with COVID-19 who had pain in the front of the neck, where the thyroid lies. They received a diagnosis of subacute thyroiditis and hyperthyroidism. The thyroid dysfunction was a complication of COVID-19.
Additionally, viral infections, including SARS-CoV-2 infection, can sometimes spread to the meninges of the brain. SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19.
Several case reports detail the experiences of people with viral meningitis due to COVID-19. Viral meningitis often clears on its own, but bacterial meningitis can be fatal.
If a person has symptoms of meningitis, they should seek immediate medical attention. Go to the emergency room if a person has a high fever and experiences any of the following:
- very stiff neck
- light sensitivity
- changes in personality or mood
Some people continue to experience symptoms after their SARS-CoV-2 infection clears. Health experts refer to this as long COVID.
Scientists do not fully understand what causes long COVID or why some people develop it and others do not. However, emerging research suggests that autoimmunity, when the immune system attacks healthy tissue, might be a factor. Chronic inflammation may also play a role in long COVID.
A 2022 preprint study that is still undergoing peer review investigated the symptoms of long COVID, including muscle pain.
Drawing on a representative sample of people in the United States, the study found a correlation between experiencing headaches, sore throat, and hair loss during a SARS-CoV-2 infection and later developing long COVID.
The people also experienced higher rates of muscle and body aches during an infection, with 70% of individuals with long COVID reporting this symptom, compared with just 56% of all people with COVID-19.
Body aches were also a common long COVID symptom, with 32% of people reporting aches and pains after the infection. About 12% of people with long COVID reported having this symptom during their SARS-CoV-2 infection.
People with mild symptoms and no health conditions that could increase their risk of severe COVID-19 do not need additional treatment. They can manage their symptoms at home.
To manage their neck pain, they can try to:
- rest and drink plenty of fluids
- use a comfortable pillow to reduce strain on the neck
- massage or gently stretch the neck to ease pain and tension
- take over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen
People with certain medical conditions — such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, or conditions that weaken the immune system — may be eligible for additional treatments. These include Paxlovid and monoclonal antibody therapy.
If a person has an underlying health condition and contracts SARS-CoV-2, they should contact a doctor.
In people who develop long COVID, a doctor will focus on managing and alleviating symptoms. There is no specific treatment that works for everyone with long COVID. Ongoing research trials aim to better understand this condition.
COVID-19 has a wide range of symptoms, and it commonly causes muscle aches. Some people experience stiff neck or neck pain, and in most cases, this is not an unusual symptom, and it will go away when the SARS-CoV-2 infection resolves.
However, in some individuals, a very stiff neck along with other symptoms, especially changes in thinking or perception, may suggest a person has meningitis or another serious COVID-19 complication. People experiencing these symptoms should seek emergency medical care.
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