Everyone has experienced a stiff neck at some time in life. These sudden injuries often cause pain and reduced range of motion that impacts everyday activities. Neck pain and stiffness is generally a minor injury that responds well to home treatment. Here are some of the common causes of neck pain and stiffness, and a few tips on what you can do to get back to normal:
Causes of Neck Pain
You may have experienced stiff, painful neck muscles after:
- A vigorous physical workout or after engaging in a sport.
- Carrying a heavy load on one side of the body, such as carrying a suitcase through an airport.
- Sleeping in an unusual position or with a pillow that holds the head at an unnatural angle.
- Holding the head in one position while working at the computer for a long time.
- Working on an overhead task that holds the arms upward.
- Extreme tension that causes neck muscles to remain contracted.
- A whiplash injury from a car accident.
At-Home Treatments for Neck Stiffness and Pain
Many neck strains and sprains will respond to treatment at home, with a few methods:
- Over-the-counter pain medications – Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen (Motrin) or naproxen (Advil) will reduce the inflammation in tissues, as well as reduce pain.
- Ice packs – Applying an ice pack to the injured area during the first 24 hours can help to relieve pain and inflammation.
- Heat packs – After the first day, a heating pad or other method that applies heat to the area will increase blood flow to tissues to improve healing.
- Massage – Once the worst of the soreness dissipates, you can apply gentle massage to the area to increase blood flow and improve the flexibility of neck muscles.
- Gentle exercise – Gentle exercise of the neck muscles can help to loosen muscles and provide relief for stiffness. Carefully roll your shoulders ten times, or squeeze your shoulder blades together ten times. If you can, lift your shoulders to your ears ten times to increase mobility.
- Get adequate head support during sleep – Check your pillow to ensure that it holds your head at a natural angle during sleep.
When You Should Get Medical Attention
If the discomfort and stiffness lasting for more than a day or two, call your doctor to make an appointment to determine the cause of the problem. In some cases, you may have experienced a muscle tear or injury to the cervical spine, which may require additional treatment. An x-ray or MRI may be required to find the exact cause.
A stiff, painful neck can be a common occurrence, but you can relieve the worst of the discomfort with common-sense treatment. Any severe pain or lasting discomfort should always be brought to the attention of your physician.