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Headache and neck pain

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For about a week, I've had a headache and a slightly stiff neck, sometimes accompanied by a lightheaded feeling. Sometimes in the mornings, my eyesight goes slightly disoriented, but this only lasts for a few seconds. The discomfort from the headache and stiff neck goes away with a dose of ibuprofen, which I've taken ~3-4 per day. Even without ibuprofen (a couple days I've tried to reduce my dosage), the pain isn't unbearable, just uncomfortable. More recently (in the last two days), I've had itchy bumps crop up on my elbows and knees, but nowhere else. I had a slight cough for a few days, but other than that I've had no other symptoms (my appetite is fine, no vomiting or diarrhea).

When I type "headache and stiff neck" into Google, it automatically leads to viral meningitis. However, I don't think my pain is as severe as most meningitis cases suggests, and I haven't had any other flu-like systems.

I did have a stressful couple weeks, with a house flooding and moving, as well as a new semester at school all starting in the first week of February, so I'm wondering if any of this has to do with stress. My new mattress is significantly softer than previous mattresses I've had, so I'm wondering if my neck stiffness has to do with that.

Any idea on what the diagnosis could be?

Much appreciated.


Category: Infectious Disease Specialist

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Category: HIV- AIDS Specialist
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Hello Leslie

Thank you for approaching DoctorSpring.

First of let me explain the 'neck stiffness' concept in clinical medicine. This term - 'neck stiffens' is used by Doctor to denote a clinical sign which is suggestive of meningitis. The patient usually lies in the bed and when the Physician tries to raise the head by holding the back side of the head, the neck will not flex. Instead the whole body moves up.

Now this is very different from the 'stiff neck' we encounter often. Being similar terms Google will not be able to differentiate both. So you NEED NOT worry about meningitis as of now.

Your symptoms are most likely due to a cervical sprain, resulting in the neck stiffness, light headedness and effecting your eyesight. A viral infection (flu like) is a also possible.
It can take up to 1 week to subside completely.

Simple posture modifications are important. Make sure you sit straight with shoulders held back, drive with your arms on the arm rest, avoid carrying bags with straps on the shoulder.
When sleeping the head and neck should aligned with the body, therefore use a small thin pillow. If your mattress is too soft, change to a slightly firmer mattress. You can try sleeping flat on your back with your thighs elevated with pillows for a few days. Avoiding sitting for long periods in one stretch, take breaks.

You can continue with Ibuprofen or take tab Tylenol for a few days. It will help relieve the symptoms.

Try doing a few neck exercises like like slowly rotating your neck, slowly tilt you head to one side and trying touching your ears to your shoulder and hold for few seconds, repeat on the other side. Bend your neck to touch your chin to the chest , hold for a few seconds and then straighten your neck, breathe in an out slowly.

In addition you can do warm water fermentation, either stay under a warm shower for 5-10 minutes with water flowing on your neck or keep warm towels on your neck.

HOWEVER (This is important )

If you have warning signs like the cough getting severe, nausea , vomiting, persistant rash, unbearable headache, sensitivity to light or any other unusual symptoms please call for medical help immediately.

Hope this helps
Feel free to ask followups

Patient replied :

Thank you Dr. Sebastian for your reply. My symptoms have gotten notably better -- I get through the day without any painkillers. My stiff neck has all but disappeared. I still get the headaches and lightheadedness, which is especially noticeable if I haven't slept well or eaten properly, but I haven't taken more than a couple ibuprofen per day for a few days now.

The only thing that concerns me is the splotch-like rash that has been on my elbows (and some red bumps on my knees) for about a week now. They had almost disappeared a few days ago but they have since flared up again. They're a little itchy, but not unbearably so. When there is pressure put on them, the redness goes away. They are generally isolated to my knees and elbows, but on my arm it has spread out a bit down the back of my forearm. I have included pictures (image.jpeg is of my knee, image[1].jpeg is of my elbow). As far as I'm aware, I don't have any allergies. Could this be related to my other symptoms?

Thank you,



These lesions look like Urticaria - allergic rash. However it will need a direct physical examination (and some tests in certain cases to confirmation. This could be due to an allergic reaction to any food items, clothing or even to Ibuprofen. For now you can take an anti allergic medication like Allegra 60 mg twice a day. If symptoms persists (especially considering your other coexisting symptoms) it is better to get a medical evaluation especially in case of persisting symptoms.

Hope this helps
Feel free to ask follow-ups
Thank you

Dr. Jaydeep Tripathy
Category: HIV- AIDS Specialist
MBBS from Sri Ramachandra University in December 2011
M.Med (Family Medicine) - TNMGR University, Chennai
MBA-MPH in Public Health in March 2016, SRM University
Finished AFIH in March 2016, SRM University
MRCP ( UK ), Internal Medicine, Royal College of Physicians, June 2016
Fellowship in Diabetology from Martin Luther University in January 2017

Currently Resident Physician, in MD Radiodiagnosis - Kamakshi Memorial Hospital, Chennai
Dr. Jaydeep Tripathy and 4 other Medical Specialists are ready to help you

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