Be-Your-Own Therapist Home Treatment

Treatments for Neck Pain

Even if you need medical treatment such as prescription medicines for your neck pain, the following home treatment measures will help speed your recovery.

For sudden (acute) neck pain:

Place an ice pack or cold pack over painful muscles for 48 to 72 hours. This will help decrease any pain, muscle spasm, or swelling. If the problem is near the shoulder or upper back, ice the back of the neck. If you prefer, try ice massage. Massage the painful area with ice for 7 to 10 minutes, long enough to numb the pain. Ice frozen in a paper cup works well. Be sure not to damage your skin (frostbite).

Avoid things that might increase swelling, such as hot showers, hot tubs, hot packs, or alcoholic beverages, for the first 48 hours after an injury. After 48 to 72 hours, if swelling is gone, apply heat. Use a warm pack or heating pad set on low. Some experts recommend alternating between heat and cold treatments.

Return to your normal daily activities as soon as possible. One study found some evidence that continuing normal activities after an acute whiplash injury helps heal some symptoms faster than taking time off from work and using neck immobilization.

Gently massage or rub the area to relieve pain and encourage blood flow. Do not massage the injured area if it causes pain. Nonprescription creams or gels, such as Bengay, may provide pain relief.

Take pain relievers. Acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) can help relieve pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, including aspirin (such as Bayer), ibuprofen (such as Advil), or naproxen sodium (such as Aleve), can help relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20 because of the risk of Reye syndrome.

For long-lasting (chronic) pain, you can use the same pain relief measures used for acute pain, but you do not have to worry about swelling. 

You can aid healing in both acute and chronic neck pain and prevent further injury by:

Doing stretching and strengthening exercises for your neck to keep your neck flexible and strong and prevent stiffness.

Avoiding or modifying any activities that may be causing your neck pain, such as prolonged computer work or overhead work.

Having good health habits. Try to reduce stress and tension at work and home. Practice muscle relaxation exercises and consider getting a massage. Stop smoking: smoking slows healing because it decreases blood supply and delays tissue repair. Exercise regularly, including aerobic exercise such as walking.

You can help prevent future neck pain by paying attention to how you move and hold yourself (body mechanics). This includes:

Avoiding slouching or a head-forward posture. Sit straight in your chair with your lower back supported, feet flat on the floor, and shoulders relaxed. Avoid sitting for long periods without getting up or changing positions. Take short breaks several times an hour to stretch your neck muscles.

Adjusting your workstation if you work at the computer. Keep the monitor so the top of the screen is at eye level. Use a document holder that puts your work at the same level as the screen.

Using a headset or speaker phone if you use the telephone a lot. Do not cradle the phone on your shoulder.

Adjusting your car seat to a more upright position that supports your head and lower back. Make sure that you are not reaching for the steering wheel while driving. Your arms should be in a slightly flexed, comfortable position.

Using a pillow that keeps your neck straight, neither too high nor too flat. Special neck support pillows called cervical pillows or rolls may relieve neck stress. You can also fold a towel lengthwise into a pad that is 4 inches wide, wrap it around your neck, and pin it in position for good support. Avoid sleeping on your stomach with your neck twisted or bent.

Having the right posture when reading in bed. Prop the book up so you are not using your arms to hold it up and bending your neck forward. Consider using a wedge-shaped pillow to support your arms and keep your neck in a neutral position.

Using proper lifting techniques. Lifting with your knees, not your back, can also help prevent neck pain.

Your doctor may recommend that you wear a cervical collar to support your neck. Cervical collars may reduce neck pain, but they should be used only for a day or two. When the pain begins to get better, start doing gentle neck exercises.

Massage Techniques for the Neck

When massaging a stiff neck, place a hot pack on the neck to relax the tissue before massaging the levator scapulae muscle. Alleviate pain and stress around the neck with tips from a massage therapist in this video on massage techniques. 

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