How to Fix Neck Pain: Stiff Neck Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

How to Fix Neck Pain: Stiff Neck Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

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Remember that any pain, stiffness, or mobility issues involving your neck should be evaluated by a doctor. It’s important to rule out injuries and infections. Always ask for professional medical advice before trying approaches on your own.

A physical evaluation by a doctor can help identify the cause of your pain. X-ray, MRI, and ultrasound imaging can also be helpful in making a diagnosis.

Apply heat or ice

Ice can help reduce inflammation and swelling by lowering blood flow to an area. Heat does the opposite, stimulating blood flow.

Both ice and heat can work together to help soothe a strained or torn muscle, and give it time to heal. They can provide timely pain relief for an overworked spot on your body, such as the neck.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends applying ice for 20 minutes a few times a day for soft tissue injuries. Make sure you buy or make a cold compress that prevents the ice from directly touching your skin.

You can alternate between applying ice and heat. Taking a warm bath or shower or using a heating pad may also help.

Take over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers

OTC pain relievers don’t require a prescription and can help reduce general pain and inflammation in the body. OTC pain relievers include a class of medication called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Common NSAIDs include ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen sodium (Aleve).

Another OTC pain reliever is acetaminophen (Tylenol), but while this medication can reduce pain, it doesn’t have anti-inflammatory properties.

Always take these as directed by a doctor or by following the instructions on the bottle. NSAIDs and other OTC pain relievers can have side effects, including upset stomach, nausea, and diarrhea.

Stretch but avoid sudden movements

Stretching can help relieve pain and stiffness and prevent it from recurring in the future. It’s important to stretch gently and slowly, making sure you always breathe in and out fully. Sudden movements, or over-stretching, can cause more pain or injury.

Exercises to relieve neck pain and stiffness are often straightforward and can be done at home (or at your desk). Talk with a doctor or physical therapist (PT) about creating a manageable routine that works for you.

Stretches often used to help with neck stiffness include:

  • Rolling your shoulders backward and then forward in a circle
  • Pressing your shoulder blades together lightly, holding the position for a few seconds, and then repeating
  • Slowly turning your head from side to side, as far as is comfortable

See a physical therapist (PT)

A doctor may refer you to a PT if you need help regaining strength and mobility in your neck after an injury. PTs can also help with chronic pain management and relief, assigning helpful exercises to train your muscles.

A PT will create a treatment regimen tailored specifically for you depending on the cause of your stiffness or pain. You’ll see your therapist during regular sessions and do exercises as directed at home. Oftentimes, PT exercises can be done anywhere for a couple of minutes per day!

Consider chiropractic care

A licensed chiropractor manipulates your muscles and joints to provide pain relief.

Chiropractors usually specialize in working on a specific area of the body. Their patients can include everyone from people recovering from injuries to pregnant people.

Talk with a doctor about whether seeing a chiropractor might be the next best step for you.

Book a massage

Massage by a trained practitioner can help to loosen and stretch your neck and back muscles.

Learn more:

  • What Are the Different Types of Massage?
  • How Often Should You Get a Massage?

Try acupuncture

Acupuncture involves inserting needles into specific pressure points on your body to relieve stress, tension, and pain. It’s a form of traditional Chinese medicine that has been practiced for thousands of years!

Some researchers believe acupuncture can trigger our body’s natural pain relievers, while others think it only creates a placebo effect. Regardless, acupuncture continues to be a popular holistic treatment approach across the world.

Acupuncture is considered safe, but going to an expert is key. Visit only a board certified practitioner, and ensure that needles are fully sterilized.

Both the American Society of Acupuncturists and the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine offer online directories.

Limit physical activity that bothers your neck

If your neck stiffness and pain started after doing a physical activity, you should limit that activity until the stiffness resolves. These physical activities could include activities done either as part of your job or as recreational exercise.

In general, you should limit heavy lifting and activities that may aggravate your neck muscles any time you have neck pain.

If you have a muscle strain, you’ll likely require rest in order to heal fully. Your ideal rest period will depend on the injury and may range from days to weeks. This window can be determined by a doctor or other healthcare professional.