A person must seek professional help for stiff neck pain if self-care does not work after a week, if the pain comes with numbness in the hand or arm, or if there are swollen glands in the neck, according to MedlinePlus. It is also necessary to contact a doctor for stiff neck pain if the pain doesn't go away with over-the-counter pain relievers, if it is difficult to swallow, or if the pain gets worse when laying down.
When seeing a doctor for stiff neck pain, she may perform a physical exam and ask a number of questions including how much the pain hurts and how often it occurs, explains MedlinePlus. Other questions a doctor may ask include where the pain is, if both sides of the neck hurt, and if the pain is chronic or if it comes and goes. The doctor may also ask if the person can touch the chin to the chest, if there is weakness with the pain, or if there are other symptoms.
When the doctor determines a diagnosis, treatment might be simple, such as ice and over-the-counter pain medication, claims MedlinePlus. In most cases, these treatments allow the pain and stiffness to clear in four to six weeks. If the doctor suspects a more-serious condition, such as a tumor, nerve disorder, infection or fracture, other tests may occur. These tests include X-rays, CT scans, blood tests and MRI exams.