According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 20% of Americans have experienced neck pain at least once in just the past three months. If you count yourself as one of these individuals or are dealing with neck pain currently, the most important question you probably have is: how can I relieve my pain right now?
Many causes of neck pain and stiffness are related to muscles in the region becoming weaker over time from poor posture and other bad habits that lead to misuse of the neck. So in a way, the sum of many of your daily behaviors can be seen as a major indicator of whether or not you’ll develop neck pain and how severe it will be.
This also means that if you have neck pain at this very moment, one of the best things you can do is to take a close look at how you use your neck throughout the day and identify any postures that might be contributing to your pain. For example, if you take public transportation to work, observe your neck position throughout your commute. If you notice that you tilt your head down when reading or to the side when taking a nap, you should try to change your habits to avoid these movements and consider using a neck pillow for the short naps to keep your neck properly aligned.
Here are some additional tips that will help to alleviate your neck pain right now:
- Use ice or heat: for minor neck pain that has just started, try applying an icepack to the neck for 20-30 minute intervals every few hours the first 2-3 days; after this period, apply heat to the area with a hot compress, heating pad, or hot shower
- Perform neck stretches: it’s important to keep moving your neck even when you’re in pain, but to avoid any jerking movements that can put strain on the neck; there are also some specific stretches you can perform anywhere:
- Roll your shoulders backwards in a circle for 10 repetitions
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together for 10 repetitions
- Bring your ear to your shoulder 10 times on each side
- When riding in a car, push your head back into the head rest while keeping it straight, and hold it for 30 seconds
- Exercise in a pool: many individuals find pools—especially those kept at a warm temperature—to be soothing for neck pain; aquatic exercise, gentle swimming strokes, or simply moving around the water with the neck submerged may all help
- Reduce stress: high levels of stress can cause you to tense the muscles in your neck and may make pain worse; this is why it’s important to try to find ways to reduce your stress in order to prevent further neck pain and stiffness
- Stay hydrated: the intervertebral discs that cushion all the bones of the spine are made primarily of water, so staying properly hydrated will help to keep them strong and flexible, increasing your chances of recovering from neck pain
Many of the recommendations for prevention also apply to treatment, so if you’re interested in learning more ways to ease your neck pain, read our last newsletter that covers some smart neck pain prevention tactics.