There’s a good reason that annoying, persistent problems are colloquially called a “pain in the neck.” Neck pain can prevent you from enjoying restful sleep, limit your mobility, and keep you from participating in your favorite activities. Here’s a look at a handful of strategies available to help ease the tension.
Try topical pain relief
If you’ve simply tweaked a muscle in your neck, consider over-the-counter topical pain relief. Gels, creams, and patches can dull the pain with warming or cooling sensations. Just be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after applying them — you don't want to accidentally transfer the topical pain reliever’s active ingredients into your eyes. And according to the Cleveland Clinic, it’s a good idea to keep track of how many days you’re using them. Overuse could cause a rash, and if your pain persists for more than a week, it’s time to seek medical attention.
Hot and cold therapy
Heat and ice can work wonders for minor injuries. Ice should be used on the affected area for the first 48-72 hours, then heat afterward. Just be careful not to fall asleep with ice packs or heating pads on your body. Furthermore, the Cleveland Clinic warns that you should resist the temptation to double up by applying heat where you’ve recently applied a topical pain reliever — this could cause skin irritation and discomfort.
If you spend a lot of time craning your neck toward your phone, tablet, or computer, you could start to feel some ill effects. In addition to simply remembering to sit and stand up straighter, you can also inspect your workplace, car, and home office for poor ergonomics that could be causing your neck pain. For instance, an ill-positioned keyboard, an unfavorably angled computer monitor, or an improperly adjusted driver’s seat could be causing strain on your spine. The Mayo Clinic suggests adjusting your chair to allow you to recline slightly, switching to a larger computer monitor to prevent yourself from craning your neck, and using a headset when speaking on the phone, so you don’t have to support the phone by scrunching your head and shoulder together.
According to chiropractor Andrew Bang, weak muscles in your neck can allow your joints to slip out of place, which can potentially lead to nerve injuries and persistent pain. Stretches and exercises can help strengthen these muscles and give your spine more support. Start off slow and easy — turn your head from side to side, or look up and down. You can also roll your shoulders or pinch your shoulder blades together.
Think about your sleeping situation
Your sleeping position can play a major role in managing neck pain. Bang suggests only sleeping on your back or side, not your stomach. Stomach sleeping can cause your head to twist at an awkward angle for hours, he explains. On top of that, consider trying to sleep with a specialized neck pillow, or forgoing a pillow entirely. A firmer mattress may also provide the support you need.
With a little patience and self-care, you can ease the pain and stiffness in your neck. However, if your troubles persist, consider contacting your healthcare provider or consulting with a physical therapist.