Neck pain is a common issue. That’s not surprising when you consider how much time most people spend hunched over a desk, a smartphone, or a steering wheel.
It’s often caused by a strain in the neck muscles due to poor posture. However, there are many types of pain that can affect your neck, and there are even more possible causes.
Sometimes it’s a sign of an injury or serious condition and will need medical attention. Other times it’s normal, such as a dull pain at the end of a long workday. This guide will help you tell the difference between the two, and teach you some simple techniques to get pain relief.
When to see a pro
When you’re wondering if you need professional help for your neck pain, here are some signs to look out for.
- The pain started after an injury
- The pain lasts more than a week
- The pain is severe
- The pain prevents you from performing your normal activities
- The pain is accompanied by other symptoms like headache, weakness, and pain spreading to other areas
These symptoms show that your neck pain might be caused by more serious conditions like a pinched nerve, herniated disc, or arthritis—and that you should seek help. There are many options when it comes to getting treatment from a medical professional. Physiotherapists, chiropractors, and massage therapists are just some examples of the healthcare providers who are experts at dealing with neck pain.
On the other hand, if it seems like your dealing with a run-of-the-mill muscle strain, here are some simple neck pain remedies that you can do yourself.
Stretch it out
Here are a few simple stretches you can do pretty much anywhere, including while seated at your desk or in the car. When stretching, keep your moves slow and smooth, and stop once you start to feel the stretch. In other words, avoid pushing it too far!
- Touch your ear to your shoulder ten times on each side.
- Roll your shoulders in a circular motion, six times forward, then six times backward.
- Lower your chin towards your chest, and hold for about 20-30 seconds, then slowly raise it back up.
- Tilt your chin up towards the ceiling and hold for about 10 seconds, then slowly lower it back down.
Cool it off, heat it up
Applying ice to your sore neck can act as an anti-inflammatory. It reduces both pain and swelling. On the other hand, heat is useful for relaxing stiff muscles.
One thing to keep in mind is you shouldn’t use heat continuously, as that can increase swelling. So if you’re using heat, apply it for 20 minutes at a time and take breaks, or alternate between heat and ice.
Getting enough sleep is important for so many aspects of your health, and neck pain is no different. Proper sleep is an essential part of the healing process, and when you don’t get enough sleep it can actually make your neck pain worse. This can lead to a vicious cycle where your painful neck prevents you from sleeping, and your lack of sleep makes your neck worse.
One way to break the cycle is to get yourself a cervical neck pillow. These pillows are specially designed to properly support your neck. They keep your neck and spine in a neutral position which will help with healing. Having your neck properly supported is also very comfortable, so a good cervical pillow will help you get to sleep.
And one more tip when it comes to sleep is to avoid sleeping on your stomach. This is the worst sleeping position for your neck as it causes you to have your head turned to the side for hours at a time. If you’re a long-time stomach sleeper, it can be difficult to change that habit, but you should give it a shot. Try sleeping on your back or side, because either one is better than stomach sleeping.
When in doubt, get checked out
If you’re not sure if your pain is caused by normal strain or an injury, its best to play it safe and get it checked out. That’s because even minor injuries can become more serious if they’re left untreated.
On top of that, the neck is particularly vulnerable to injuries. That’s because it has to be flexible to allow a wide range of motion, but it also has to support the weight of your head. It’s all held up by seven small bones stacked from the top of your shoulders to the base of your skull. Those bones also act as a housing for the spinal cord and arteries that carry blood to your brain.
It is arguably one of the body’s most complicated areas, with the many important nerves, blood vessels, and joints all together in one small space. So you should take good care of it. If you have any suspicion that you’ve been injured, have a professional take a look.