Soothing and Improving Persistent Neck Pain
A sore neck can be a real pain in the, well, neck. The associated ache and discomfort can interfere with daily activities and lead to many a sleepless night. Just 10 years ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported more than 12% of men and more than 17% of women suffering from neck pain and stiffness to some degree. Some experts believe that number’s on the rise due to the increased use of computers and mobile devices. People often hold their heads and neck at an angle that can become uncomfortable and problematic over time. Looking down at a book or a laptop is the most commonly reported cause of neck strain. Neck pain may also be caused by arthritis, degenerative disc disease, declining muscle strength, stress, or lack of sleep, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Poor posture tends to exacerbate these conditions, turning mild soreness into more moderate or severe persisting pain.
What do top medical experts suggest for treating a sore neck? What are some of the most effective interventions? Most forms of mild or moderate neck pain can be effectively managed within a few weeks, according to Mayo Clinic. Prevention is a great place to start. Setting up new lifestyle habits may pay off in the long run. If long hours in front of a computer screen are unavoidable, use of an ergonomic office chair or adjusting the chair to a position with flat feet on the floor and the knees lower than the hips can be helpful. Adjusting the computer to eye level or using an elevated laptop station can come in handy. The use of an ergonomic keyboard and computer mouse is also a small tweak that can make a big difference after daily hours of repetitive use. According to Harvard Health Publishing, it may be best to use the phone on the hands-free mode or wear a headset. Tablets can be laid in the lap at a 45-degree angle instead of flat where the neck would need to be strained in order to see. Begin or maintain a regular exercise routine to strengthen neck muscles and stand to stretch often (or use a standing desk). Helpful stretches include rolling the shoulders backward and then forward, squeezing the shoulder blades together for several repetitions, and turning the head from side to side very slowly. Simply put: don’t stay in one single position for too long at a time.
If the neck begins to become inflamed, alternating between the use of hot and cold can reduce inflammation. Ice packs can be useful, as are heating pads or just taking a hot bath. Paying attention to your sleeping environment can help. A healthy sleep routine can promote relaxation and reduce stress. A firm mattress and use of a neck pillow can be helpful. More pillows are not always necessarily better. The use of fewer pillows under the head that still allow for a full range of motion is ideal. Back or side sleeping is recommended. If grinding the teeth is an issue at night, a mouth guard is also recommended.
Over-the-counter medication for pain relief can be required, either ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen. Stronger pain medicine may also be prescribed, as well as muscle relaxants or tricyclic antidepressants, according to Mayo Clinic. Some people benefit from working with a physical therapist on posture, alignment, and exercises to strengthen the neck muscles. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, otherwise referred to as TENS, involves having small electrodes placed near the painful areas on the neck to discharge electrical impulses in an effort to reduce pain. Traction is a form of therapy that gently stretches the neck. A neck collar can offer some relief if used for small periods of time, usually anything less than three hours at a time for a couple of weeks. The neck is completely immobilized. Steroids are injected in some cases near nerve roots or into the neck muscles to help soothe the pain. Numbing agents, like lidocaine, can also be used to treat discomfort. Surgery is rarely required for neck pain but it may be a viable choice for spinal cord compression.
Alternative interventions that offer some promise for neck pain relief include massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic care. A massage may offer temporary relief when paired with other treatment but very little scientific evidence actually exists to support massage as a treatment for neck pain, according to Mayo Clinic. Acupuncture has been shown to offer relief for pain in general. This treatment involves needles being inserted into different points on the body. A chiropractic adjustment involves applying force to a joint in the spine and can offer short-term pain relief.
Neck pain is a common complaint but it doesn’t necessarily have to interfere with day-to-day life if effective treatments are properly researched and carried out. As with any medical issue, consulting reliable sources and following up with an informed medical practitioner is recommended.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Harvard Health Publishing