From sleeping in awkward positions to spending multiple hours at work using your computer or answering the phone, there are many things that can contribute to a stiff neck. Luckily, it’s often a temporary problem. Even so, neck stiffness isn’t usually something you can ignore. However, there are some things you can do to soothe the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that support your cervical spine enough to ease your pain and get back to your normal routine.
1. Apply Ice and/or Heat
A stiff neck triggers a response from the immune system that results in inflammation. Ice applied to the affected area minimizes the buildup of lactic acid and the white blood cell chemicals that contribute to tissue swelling. Heat works by relaxing muscles and increasing the circulation needed for tissue healing.
If you’re going to use both methods to soothe your stiff neck, start with an ice pack or cooling gel for the first 24-48 hours. If discomfort remains, switch to heat applications with a heating pad or warm bath or shower. Limit cold/heat applications or exposure to 15-20 minutes at a time.
Note: Avoid directly applying ice or heat to your skin.
2. Use Anti-Inflammatory Drugs
NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) work by blocking certain enzymes and compounds that contribute to tissue swelling. If hot and cold applications aren’t effective, try over-the-counter NSAIDs like aspirin and ibuprofen. Your doctor may prescribe stronger anti-inflammatory drugs if over-the-counter versions aren’t providing sufficient relief from neck stiffness.
3. Try Neck-Specific Exercises
Exercise can ease tense soft tissues by boosting endorphin production and increasing circulation. Get even more benefits from exercise for neck stiffness by focusing on isometric neck exercises, which require little or no joint movement and specifically target muscle groups that support the neck.
For example, you could do an isometric neck stretch by locking your fingers behind your head and moving your head backward. Exert pressure on your hands with the back of your head until you can feel the stretch in your neck muscles.
4. Change Your Sleep Positions
If neck stiffness is usually a problem you have when first waking up, the source of your discomfort is likely related to your sleep position. Back or side sleeping tends to be better for keeping the upper spine, neck, and head aligned. You may also experience less neck stiffness by:
• Using a more supportive pillow or a specially shaped neck pillow
• Investing in a mattress that’s sufficiently firm
• Using a u-shaped neck pillow when you travel
5. Watch Your Posture
Poor posture habits can take a toll on every part of your spine, including your neck. Make a conscious effort to avoid positions that throw off your head-neck alignment or force your neck into unnatural positions. Your neck is also less likely to be stiff if you avoid:
• Excessive downward neck craning when using various devices (“tech neck”)
• Sitting or standing with your head and shoulders incorrectly aligned
• Turning your head in one direction or the other for long periods while typing and glancing up at your computer screen
Not all instances of neck stiffness will go away with the remedies mentioned here. If your discomfort includes sudden or sharp pain or the stiffness and pain linger for days or weeks, there may be additional problems with joints, discs, and other structures in your neck. With situations like this, err on the side of caution and see your doctor or a Beverly Hills spine surgeon.
Consistent neck pain can take a toll on your daily activities. It’s necessary to identify its root cause and determine an effective treatment to alleviate the pain. For information regarding treating neck pain, reach out to Dr. Hyun Bae at The Spine Institute. Whether it be spinal fusion surgery or an alternative to spinal fusion, Beverly Hillsresidents trust Dr. Bae and his team of experienced professionals for expert opinion and procedures.Schedule an in-person consultation by calling (310) 828-7757 today.