Neck pain is a common occurrence for most adults and is often associated with headaches. Most of the time it is not serious and usually related to muscle strain. However, there are some serious and potentially deadly causes of neck pain that need to be kept in mind. When it comes to children in particular, neck pain should never be ignored or passed off in the way abdominal pain is seen by parents. Adults may not necessarily be as concerned about neck pain provided that it does not progressively worsen over hours and days, occur with severe headaches, confusion and sensitivity to light.
Muscle pain is the most common cause of neck pain in adults. More serious conditions involve spinal bone and disc degeneration with nerve root compression (pinched nerve) and related musculoskeletal causes often linked to trauma, poor posture and overuse. Overall none of these conditions are as serious as meningitis or other problems with the brain, meninges, spinal cord or blood vessels running up to the brain, all of which may present with neck pain and stiffness. While adults need to be aware of these problems and seek medical attention, a few simple lifestyle measures can often remedy neck pain without any serious long term complications.
The tips provided here are mainly for neck strain with associated pain that arises in the course of life. Always ask a medical professional for advice and continue with the treatment prescribed. These measures may be helpful for short term relief from less serious musculoskeletal causes of neck pain. It largely overlaps with the simple remedies on how to ease a stiff neck but sometimes neck pain can occur on its own without stiffness.
Improve Neck Posture
Poor posture is one of the leading causes of neck pain. Looking up or down for long periods, slouching or lying down with the head picked up are some of the ways that posture is compromised. These are common positions when working at a desk, watching TV or in people with poor posture in general. Correcting your posture is a conscious effort until it becomes the norm and second nature. The ears should be in line with the shoulders when standing or sitting to ensure that the spine is able to maintain its natural curvatures. Furthermore you should look straight ahead and not slightly upwards or downwards to cater for the tilting of the head forward or backward respectively.
Take a Hot Shower or Heat Pad
Heat is very effective in easing stiffness, pain and neck muscle spasm. A hot shower with the water striking on the neck, a soak in a hot bath of water, a hot water bottle or heat pad are all effective ways of applying heat to the neck. This is very effective after a long day where the neck was strained due to poor posture especially at the workplace. Heat is not advisable immediately after sustaining an injury but can be used as a daily remedy for people with regular neck pain. Very high temperatures or prolonged periods of contact with heat should be avoided as it can burn the skin and cause damage to deeper tissues. Heat therapy where the temperature is constant for between 10 to 20 minutes at a time will suffice.
Use an Ice Pack for Injuries
Applying an ice pack to the neck is obviously uncomfortable but cold therapy is very effective in reducing inflammation associated with injury. This in turn can ease neck stiffness and pain. Ice should never be applied directly to the skin. Instead an ice pack can be applied on the neck and preferably at the injured sites for around 10 minutes at a time. This should be continued for up to 3 days after sustaining and injury. Thereafter heat therapy can be used. An injury to the neck should always be assessed by a doctor. Some injuries like whiplash which may be sustained during a car accident can cause long term neck pain and will need more than just ice for proper management.
Immobilize with a Neck Collar
Immobilizing the neck in a natural position can relieve the strain off the neck muscles, tendons and ligaments of the back. Hyperflexion and hyperextension are two way in which the muscles, tendons and ligaments can be injured and lead to neck pain. By immobilizing the neck, the strain is reduced while the injured tissue heals. A soft neck collar can be used in most instances for neck pain even without an identifiable injury to the neck. Where a neck collar is not immediately available, a rolled up large towel placed around the neck can do the trick until a neck collar can be purchased. Hard collars or braces should only be used when advised by a doctor. Long periods of immobilization is not advised.
Reassess Your Pillows
Just how many pillows is the right number to use when sleeping? It largely depends on the thickness of the pillow but one pillow should be sufficient. The neck should be in line with the rest of the spine whether you lie on your back or side. If it does not, the neck muscles and tendons can be stretched and strained. Sleeping awkwardly and using too many pillows are some of the common reasons for neck pain after sleeping. Specially-designed ergonomic anti-snore pillows are designed to maintain the natural contours of the spine when lying down and sleeping. These pillows may be a better option if you experience recurrent neck pain after awaking and can be used even if you do not snore.
Neck Stretching Exercises
Neck stretching exercises are very effective in easing neck muscle stiffness and even preventing neck pain. A physical therapist should show and guide you on the correct neck exercises which should be continued even after the neck pain eases. However, neck stretching exercises can be a problem for the ligaments of the back and when there is compression of nerve roots emanating from the neck (cervical) portion of the spine. It is important to first consult with a doctor or physical therapist to ensure that neck stretching exercises can help. If your neck needs to be immobilized for a period of time, then your doctor or PT may advise not to do these stretching exercises for a period of time.