neck stiffness

Could Your Neck Stiffness Mean Meningitis?

Source: Spine-Health / By Stefano M. Sinicropi, MD, FAAOS

Meningitis is a serious condition that occurs when the meninges—protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord—become infected and inflamed. Early symptoms can be similar to the flu. However, having a stiff neck in addition to flu-like symptoms could be a key clue that meningitis is the problem and should be checked by a doctor.

There are several types of meningitis, but this article focuses on the two most common ones: viral and bacterial. In cases where someone has contracted bacterial meningitis, finding medical attention immediately (within a few hours of initial symptoms) can be the difference between making a full recovery and permanent disability or death.

Common Symptoms

Meningitis can start suddenly, and early symptoms may include one or more of the following:

  • Fever. Running a fever is a common part of the immune system’s defense against infections. A fever with meningitis will usually be above 103 degrees, but not always.
  • Headache. A headache caused by meningitis is typically described as severe and unrelenting. It does not subside by taking an aspirin.
  • Stiff neck. This symptom most commonly involves a reduced ability to flex the neck forward, also called nuchal rigidity. Depending on the severity of the nuchal rigidity, the neck might be able to flex about half of what it could do before, or it might hardly flex at all.

As time goes on, other symptoms can develop, such as nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light or noises, cognitive problems with concentration and memory, and many other latter-stage symptoms.

In addition, it should be noted that bacterial and viral meningitis are both contagious, so they are more likely to be contracted and spread in areas where people live in close quarters, such as college dorms or military barracks.