Anyone who has ever had a stiff neck knows that they’re painful and awkward. The inability to turn your head sideways without pain makes everyday tasks challenging and driving a car impossible. It’s an inconvenience that no one wants, but trying to find a stiff neck remedy is a step in the right direction.
How to Get Rid of a Stiff Neck
A stiff neck usually refers to soreness and difficulty in moving the neck side to side. In fact, it may require that you turn your entire body to look over your shoulder. The pain may be accompanied by a headache, shoulder pain or arm pain.
If a stiff neck is bothering you, try simple remedies to start your stiff neck treatment:
- Ice is nice. Apply ice to the affected area for the first 48 to 72 hours; afterward, substitute heat in the form of hot showers, compresses or a heating pad. Don’t place ice packs or heating pads next to bare skin.
- The bottle. Of over-the-counter pain relievers, that is. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen should banish the pain.
- Move it. Motion will help keep inflammation at bay, but no jerky movements allowed.
- Rub-a-dub-dub. Ask a partner or a friend to gently massage the area.
- Stiff neck exercises. Range of motion exercises gently stretch neck muscles. You may wish to consult a physiotherapist for additional suggestions.
- Chuck the cushion. Try sleeping pillowless or with a special neck pillow.
Depending on the cause of your stiff neck, some lifestyle adjustments may be in order:
- Redecorate. Be sure that your work station is set up ergonomically to keep your head, neck and back in a natural position. You may need a different chair or an adjustment to the height of your computer monitor.
- Stare at the ceiling. If your sleep position is causing a stiff neck, you’ll need to modify it. Sleeping on your back or your side are best for the neck. If you sleep on your stomach, your head generally twists in one direction for hours at a time.
- Pillow talk. Buy a pillow that isn’t too high for you or too firm.
- S-t-r-e-t-c-h. You may need to stretch regularly to prevent your neck muscles from injury. A physiotherapist can design a targeted exercise program for you.
Stiff Neck Causes
To figure out how to get rid of your stiff neck, you need to look into what causes a stiff neck. The most common cause of a stiff neck is a muscle or soft tissue sprain. The cervical spine housed in the neck comprises seven vertebrae that protect the spinal cord while connecting the skull to the upper back and its thoracic vertebrae.
To the back and side of the neck is the levator scapulae muscle that connects the neck to the shoulder, and it is this muscle that is most susceptible to sprains.
A levator scapulae strain has a variety of potential causes:
- A fall or sudden impact that moves the head side to side.
- Sleeping with the neck in an unusual position.
- Holding the head at an unnatural angle for long periods of time – for example, by cradling a phone between ear and shoulder or by looking down at a computer monitor.
- Poor posture.
- Stress or anxiety.
- An activity that requires you to repeatedly move your head from side to side, such as swimming the crawl stroke.
If the pain appears shortly after a fall, the cause will be obvious. Otherwise, you may not be able to pinpoint the exact cause; misusing your muscles over time can have a cumulative effect.
In addition, there are spine disorders that can result in a stiff neck, including:
- Cervical osteoarthritis. The breakdown of joints between the bones of the vertebrae.
- Cervical herniated disc. Breakdown of a disc’s outer layer causes fluid to leak out and cause inflammation and compression in surrounding tissues.
- Cervical degenerative disc disease. Discs lose height and hydration over time, potentially exerting pressure on nearby soft tissues, joints and nerves.
Generally, a stiff neck resulting from muscle strain should clear up on its own within a week. If the pain and stiffness remain, however, it’s time to consult a physician to determine if a spinal disorder is the underlying cause.
If your neck pain persists longer than a week, it’s possible that you have an underlying condition that is causing the stiff neck, such as those mentioned above. You should check with your physician to be sure that any serious problem is identified quickly so you can seek additional treatment. Meanwhile, heads up!