A stiff neck, in conjunction with a high fever, headache, nausea or vomiting, sleepiness and other symptoms, may be indicative of meningitis, a bacterial inflection that causes the protective membranes of the brain and spinal cord to be inflamed. Other infections can also cause stiff neck symptoms, such as meningococcal disease, an infection in the cervical spine. Any time a stiff neck is accompanied by a fever it is advisable to seek immediate medical attention to check for these possibilities.
Many problems in the cervical spine can lead to neck stiffness. The stiffness can result as a reaction to the underlying disorder in the cervical spine. For example, a cervical herniated disc or cervical osteoarthritis can lead to neck stiffness, as the structures and nerve pathways in the cervical spine are all interconnected and a problem in any one area can lead to muscle spasm and/or muscle stiffness.