Neck Pain Relief 

Your neck is part of your spine – something I have written about before. If you have any kind of back pain, especially in your lower back, please see my article Back pain relief to find out more about this topic.

Neck pain is so common that it’s become part of everyday language. For example, if you don’t like someone or something, many of us say that it is a pain in the neck! Lots of us suffer from neck pain, and it can make life miserable. It can be chronic, which means it’s a long-term problem that has developed over time, or it can be acute, which means it comes on suddenly.

I have had both types of neck pain, and both were very unpleasant. Long hours hunched over my computer gave me an almost constant neck ache, and a slip off a curb when running gave me a neck injury a few years ago. I know from first-hand experience how unpleasant neck pain can be!

My neck pain interfered with sleep, made driving really awkward, especially when trying to look behind me, and also caused headaches. It made me pretty grumpy too.

In this article, I will delve into some different types and causes of neck pain, and also give you some ways to prevent and even cure your neck problems. Of course, I’m not a doctor and my advice is only based on my experience and research. If you are unsure or worried that your neck pain is something serious, make sure you get some qualified medical advice.

Basic neck anatomy 

Your neck is truly amazing. It supports your head and allows you to look up, down, and all around you. This mobility comes at a cost; your neck is also quite fragile and prone to developing problems. It’s also susceptible to injury.

The neck is made up from seven bones – the cervical vertebrae. Each vertebra is separated by a flexible but strong pad of cartilage called an intervertebral disk. The vertebra are also connected by fibrous tissues called ligaments which hold them together. Movement is controlled by muscles and, because you can move your neck in so many different ways, there are a lot of muscles. Some are very big, while others are very small. There are muscles on the front, side, and back of your neck. Moving your neck, as well as keeping your head upright, uses combinations of muscles.

Because your neck is so complex, there is a lot to go wrong with it. Its main job is, of course, supporting and moving your head, but it also contains organs like your thyroid gland, your tonsils, and your voice box.

neck anatomy

Causes and symptoms of chronic neck pain 

Chronic neck pain usually comes on gradually but is usually long-lasting. You might wake up with a stiff neck, or find that your neck aches more as the day goes on. Chronic neck pain can even become a constant companion – something you learn to live with day after day. It might feel a little better one day, but then feel worse the next. In my opinion, this is the worst type of pain – just as you think it’s getting better, it comes back – often worse than before.

There are several different causes of chronic neck pain. Here are some of the more common ones.

Poor posture – for every inch your move your head forward, you increase the stress on your neck by ten pounds. Your head is a heavy object, so it needs to balance on the top of your neck. Habitual poor posture puts a lot of strain on the back of your neck, and also makes the muscles on the front of your neck short and tight. This means that even when you are trying to keep your neck straight, your head will not be in proper alignment and your neck will be stressed.

In my experience, poor posture is the leading cause of chronic neck pain, which is why good posture is so important.

Too many or too few pillows – if your neck is not straight when you sleep, you will probably wake up with a stiff neck. Too many or too few pillows will mean your head and neck are not aligned with the rest of your spine. Because you spend as many as eight or more hours in this position, night after night, and year after year, your neck will soon stiffen up. It’s no wonder that many of us wake up with a stiff neck.

Heavy headgear – if you have a job where you have to wear a heavy hat or helmet, maybe because you ride a motorcycle, you will be putting a lot of weight on your head and therefore your neck. This can compress the cervical intervertebral disks, leading to neck pain.

Degenerative disk disease – the disks on your spine absorb shock and keep the bones of your neck apart. These disks can become worn, and may harden. This can cause neck stiffness and pain.

Jaw misalignment – your jaw moves as many as 10,000 times a day. Some of the muscles that affect your jaw also affect your neck. If your jaw is misaligned, this can produce neck pain. Your jaw could be out of alignment because of a dental problem, or as the result of an injury, that was not treated properly.

Stress – when you are stressed, it’s very common for your neck and shoulders to tense up. Tense muscles restrict blood flow into your muscles, limiting oxygen supply. This causes a build-up of lactic acid which causes pain. That’s why a neck rub is great for reducing stress and neck pain.

Bone abnormalities – some people are born with congenital cervical spine defects that can cause neck pain. This are often fixed with surgery.

Nerve pain – poor posture can put pressure on the nerves in your neck, leading to pain and irritation. This is a lot like sciatic nerve pain, something I have written about in my article Sciatica pain relief. This type of pain is often attributed to a “pinched nerve” which refers to how the nerve is squeezed between bones, muscles, or both.

Repetitive strain injuries – if you have a job that requires a lot of head and neck twisting, maybe you have to drive a forklift truck, and often have to look back over your shoulder when reversing, you could cause a lot of wear and tear as well as fatigue to your neck muscles and cervical spine, both of which could lead to neck pain.

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Chronic neck pain symptoms include the following:

  • Stiffness – trouble turning your head or nodding
  • Sharp or stabbing pains in one location
  • Soreness or tenderness on one area of muscle
  • Pain that radiates down your shoulder, into your arm, or even to your fingers
  • Tingling or numbness in your shoulders, arms, or fingers
  • Trouble gripping or a weak grip
  • Loss of balance or dizziness

In some instances, chronic neck pain could be simple muscle soreness, and it can be massaged and stretched away. In other cases, you might need to see a chiropractor or other type of body worker to fix the problem. The good news is that, in most cases, chronic neck pain is treatable, and often preventable.

Causes and symptoms of acute neck pain 

Acute neck pain normally comes on suddenly, and you will probably be able to identify the cause. For example, when I fell off that curb while running, I landed awkwardly, and the weight of my head came crashing straight down on my neck, which caused a lot of pain at the time, and a lot of stiffness thereafter.

Common causes of acute neck pain include:

Automobile accidents – when your car goes from 55 mph to zero in a fraction of a second, your head keeps on moving. This causes a violent deceleration of your head and a “whiplash” injury to your neck. Whiplash can affect the muscles, ligaments, and disks in your neck and is very painful, often taking months to get better. Car airbags and headrests can reduce the risk of whiplash.

car accidents neck pain

Sports injuries – contact sports like football, boxing, and wrestling can all cause acute neck injuries. That’s why a lot of sports have very strict rules about things like high tackles. Getting hit by another player can cause severe whiplash-type neck injuries, as well as impact injuries.

Burners – also known as stingers, this is a type of injury that affects the brachial plexus which is the bundle of nerves in your neck that controls your arms. This is usually the result of a blow to the neck, although it could also be caused by pressure from a cervical disk. Burners happen when your shoulder gets push down and your neck is pushed in the opposite direction, or your collar bone is struck or pushed down.

Herniated cervical disk – a herniated disk is a disk that bulges outward and partially or completely ruptures. This in itself is very painful, but also puts pressure on the cervical nerves which causes pain and irritation. The pain will not go until the disk heals or is repaired. This can be the result of whiplash, a load falling on your head, or a neck injury.

Neck strains and sprains – strains happen when your muscles are overstretched or overstressed. This can happen in sports, when lifting something heavy, in an unexpected fall, or any other time your head moves violently and out of your control. In contrast, a sprain affects the ligaments, and while the causes are the same, different tissues are affected.

Many of the symptoms of acute neck pain can be the same as for chronic neck pain; it’s just that they tend to come on more quickly, and the cause is usually much more identifiable i.e. a specific incident or accident. Those symptoms include:

  • Loss of consciousness – if head trauma was the cause of neck pain
  • Loss of movement – if cervical nerve has been damaged or severed
  • Stiffness – trouble turning your head or nodding
  • Sharp or stabbing pains on one location
  • Soreness or tenderness on one area of muscle
  • Pain that radiates down your shoulder, into your arm, or even to your fingers
  • Tingling or numbness in your shoulders, arms, or fingers
  • Trouble gripping
  • Loss of balance or dizziness

Diagnosis of neck pain

If you have neck pain, you should go and see your doctor to get a proper diagnosis. If you were in an accident, this should happen as a matter of course. If your neck pain is chronic, you may have to self-refer. Your doctor will then use his expertise to assess and diagnose your neck issues. To do this he will use a combination of assessments and tests including:

  • History – he’ll ask you if you know how it happened e.g. a trip or fall
  • Observation – he’ll look for any obvious abnormalities such as swelling, unevenness, redness, and poor posture
  • Palpation – he’ll touch your neck to locate the source of the problem, also feel for tension and minor swelling and other abnormalities. Areas of heat or cold can also indicate the source of the problem.
  • Movement tests – to see how much you can move your neck, and how much it hurts to do so. This may also include tests for your arms and hands to assess nerve and muscle function
  • X-ray – to see the cervical vertebrae and check for damage
  • MRI – to get a 3D image of the different structures in your neck

On completion of his assessment, your doctor will then suggest a treatment plan that may or may not include rest, rehab exercises, pain medication, massage, joint treatment by a chiropractor or similar, or even surgery. It all depends on the nature of the problem. Make sure you follow your doctor’s instructions. He is, after all, the medical expert!

How to reduce the risk of neck pain 

Neck pain is very common, but it can often be prevented or avoided. Of course, accidents happen and there is not much you can do to prevent them other than being careful – which is exactly what you should do! However, you can take steps to reduce your risk of developing chronic neck pain.

These are my top ten tips for reducing neck pain

  1. Change your pillows – your pillows should be thick enough that, when you lie on your back or your sides, your neck is neutral i.e. straight. Firmer pillows are best as they don’t deform during the night. You may also find that you get less neck pain if you lie on your back instead of your side. The pillow I use and recommend available at amazon.com.
  2. Raise the level of your computer screen – if you use a laptop, chances are you are always looking down at your screen. This can increase neck strain and cause poor posture. If you can, switch to a desktop computer where the screen is eye level. Alternatively, use an external keyboard with your lap top, and put your laptop on a low shelf or box so they screen is naturally at eye level.
  3. Get your eyes checked – if you have poor eyesight, you are more likely to shove your head forward to read your computer screen. A bigger screen will help, as will wearing glasses. Get your eyes tested to make sure that poor eyesight is not causing neck pain.
  4. Avoid “text neck” – if you use your phone a lot for texting or surfing the net, you probably have text neck. This happens because you keep on lowering your head down to see your phone screen. This puts a lot of strain on your neck, and can soon lead to chronic neck pain and poor posture. Instead of lowering your head to your phone, raise your phone to eye-height. Better still, use your phone less.
  5. Break up periods of sitting with standing and moving – even if your computer is the right height, spending hours at a time in one fixed position can cause your neck to stiffen up and become painful. Try and get up and move for five minutes every hour, making sure you turn your head to restore natural movement. Set a reminder on your computer to remind you to move.
  6. Use protection – if you play sports where neck injury is common e.g. rugby, hockey, or martial arts, make sure you use any neck protectors that are allowed. Racing drivers, for example, are allowed to wear neck collars to protect them in case of a crash. If you sport allows neck protection, make sure you use it.
  7. See your dentist – problems with your teeth can lead to problems with your jaw, which can then lead to problems with your neck. Stop neck pain before it starts by getting regular dental checkups. You’ll be surprised how many cases of neck pain start with an un-extracted wisdom tooth! 
  8. Don’t carry heavy loads on one shoulder – heavy, uneven loads, can put a lot of strain on one shoulder, pulling it down toward the floor. This stretches the muscles and the nerves in the side of your neck, and could cause a burner or stinger-type neck injury. Instead, divide and spread the load across both sides or, better still, put the load into a backpack, and put the straps over both shoulders.
  9. Be an airhead! – imagine your head is full of hot air, and that it is floating on top of your neck. This will lift you into good posture when you are sitting, walking, or standing. This is one of the best signals I know for adopting better, neck-friendly posture, and avoiding neck pain. You will forget to do this after a few minutes but a timer on your phone set to sound every 15-20 minutes will remind you!
  10. 10.Stay hydrated – drinking lots of water will ensure your intervertebral disks don’t dry out and become compressed, leading to neck pain. Try to drink around 64 ounces of water per day. I like to drink filtered water as it’s got none of the chemicals you’ll often find in tap water. The water filter I use, available at amazon.com.
See Also  Weak Muscles Lead to Back Pain

Treatment 

If you have neck pain, and I’m talking non-serious problems like waking up with a still neck after sleeping in an unusual hotel bed, having strained your neck at the gym, or because you know you have poor posture, there are several things you can to do treat your pain.

Personally, I always try and treat pain without using medication if I can. I don’t like to be reliant on even over-the-counter medications. But, if your doctor has given you pain meds, you should take them.

Here are some other things you can to relieve existing neck pain. I also suggest you put my neck pain top ten tips to avoid making the problem worse or canceling out your treatment.

Natural ways to reduce neck pain

  1. Use heat – heat can help increase circulation and reduce muscle tension. It’s very pleasant and relaxing and can leave the muscles in your neck feeling great. A hot towel, a hot water bottle, or a heat pack can all help. Heating pads for neck relief available at Amazon.com.
  2. Use ice – ice is good for reducing swelling and pain. Ice naturally blocks the pain signal without needing medication and numbs the affected area. If you use ice, don’t put it directly on your skin as it may burn. Instead, place a cloth between your skin and the ice. Neck Ice packs available at Amazon.com.
  3. Get a massage – massage is a great way to ease muscle tension, increase blood flow, and reduce pain. You can massage your own neck very easily, or get someone else to do it for you. Use a heated gel to increase the effectiveness, or try arnica which is a natural pain killer.
  4. Use a TENS machine – TENS machines are an effective, drug-free way to relieve pain. They are cheap, safe, and easy to use. The mild electrical pulse that they produce overpowers the pain signals in your body, so that wherever you place the electrodes becomes pain-free. This gives pain relief both while you are using the TENS machine, and for hours afterward too. I own and recommend this one, you can find it at Amazon.com.
  5. Natural anti-inflammatory foods – if you have neck pain, natural anti-inflammatory foods can help. Good choices include turmeric, fish oils, oregano, ginger, garlic, green tea, blueberries, and cloves.

5 exercises for neck pain relief 

Exercise can do a lot for neck pain. Your neck needs to be strong, supple, and mobile. In many cases, exercise can prevent neck pain in the first place, and is also an important part of the treatment process. Of course, you should let your pain direct what exercises you do and how hard you do them. After all, I want you to get better, and not worse!

1. Side neck stretch

I like to do this simple neck stretch every hour or so. In fact, I’ve done it several times while writing this article. Sitting or standing, put one hand on your side and the other one on the top of your head. Gently pull your head over to the side while keeping your other shoulder down.

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2. Chin tucks

This is a great exercise if you have “text neck” or often find yourself craning your head forward toward your computer screen. Sitting or standing, place your fingers on your chin. Pull your chin back and create a “double chin”. Keep your jaw parallel to the floor and look forward. You can also do this exercise while lying on the floor.

3. Head turn neck stretch

Most of us spend an awful lot of time with our heads turned to the front. This can leave your neck very tight and stiff when you need to turn your head, like when you are reversing your car. Use this stretch to reintroduce rotation into your neck. Lie on your back with your head resting on the floor. Keeping your shoulders still, gently turn your head to the left and to the right.


4. Isometric neck extension

If you spend a lot of time with your head forward (text neck), the muscles on the back of your neck can become weak. This leads to more pain as these muscles are then unable to hold your head up against gravity. Fix this problem with this exercise. Place one or both hands on the back of your head. Push your head back into your hand(s) to create tension in the muscles at the back of your neck. Hold for 15-30 seconds and rest.

5. Sitting neck stabilizing exercise

This is a good exercise for relearning what proper neck alignment should feel like. You might think you are sitting or standing in good posture, when in fact you are nowhere near! Use this exercise to correct the position of your neck, reducing pain as you do so.

Sit with your back to a wall. The back of your head should be touching the wall too. Float your head up, keeping your head on the wall. This is a very small movement that should require very little muscle tension. You can also do this exercise standing instead of sitting, which I how I usually do it.

5 yoga exercises for neck pain relief 

Yoga has some great neck stretching and strengthening exercises. Headstands, which are popular in yoga, are also a good way to develop a stronger neck. However, if you currently have neck pain, I’d avoid head stands until your neck pain is gone.

1. Tree pose

This balance exercise teaches you to keep your head up in good alignment. If your head is forward, or you are otherwise in poor posture, you’ll soon lose your balance. Stand on one leg with your other foot pressed against the inside of your supporting leg. Place your hands together in front of your chest. Float your head up to create good posture.

2. Cat-cow

You’ll have seen this exercise already if you have read my article Back Pain Relief. However, as well as being good for your lower back, it’s also a great neck exercise. Kneel on all fours, with your shoulders over your hands and your hips over your knees. Lift up through the middle of your back and lower your head toward the floor. Next, push your belly down toward the floor and lift your head, looking up toward the ceiling. Continue alternating between these two positions.

3. Ear to shoulder Pose

This is a lovely, gentle pose that stretches your neck using gravity. It’s very hard to overstretch your neck with this exercise so it’s great if your neck is really sore or painful. Clasp your hands behind your back and pull them over toward your left hip. Lean your head over to the left and lower your head down toward your shoulder. You can do this seated or standing. Hold this position for a moment or two, allowing gravity to ease you into a deeper stretch. Swap sides and repeat.

4. Corpse Pose

If you need to take stress off your neck after a hard day sat at your computer, this is the yoga pose for you. Lie on your back on the floor and allow your arms, legs, and head to feel heavy. Close your eyes and imagine you are sinking into the floor. Feel the floor press against the back of your body. Stay in this position for as long as it takes for all that tension to leak out of you.

5. Easy seated twist

This exercise wrings tension out of your spine from the bottom to the top. Twists are important for spine health, and yet it’s something so few of us do on a regular basis. It’s often only when you try and turn your head to look behind you that you realize that you can’t twist very easily.

Sit in a chair or on the floor with your legs crossed. Place your right hand on your left knee, and your left hand on the floor behind you. Twist your upper body to the left, turning your head in the same direction. Keep your shoulders down and both butt cheeks on the floor. Keep your spine long and your head up. Lean your head slightly over to your shoulder to increase the stretch in your neck. Slowly unwind, change sides, and repeat.

 

Conclusion

Neck pain is no fun – which is after all why we call the things we don’t like “a pain in the neck.” While accidents that result in neck pain are often unavoidable, many of the other causes of neck pain are within your control – like posture, not slouching over your phone, and making sure your computer screen are the right height. Remember, for every inch your head is out of alignment, you place an extra ten pounds of stress on your neck. So, make sure you sit up tall, with your ears over your shoulders, and keep the stress on your neck to a minimum.

1. Image credit:  Teach me anatomy

2. Image credit: Accident Lawyers St Louis 

Natural ways to stretch and relax the muscles around the neck and get instant pai relief.

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Hi, my name is Sarah and I’m so happy that you’re here! I’ve shared my story here

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