Pain Management

How to treat neck pain at home

Is your neck issue becoming a real pain in the neck?

In this post we’re focusing on how to treat neck pain with the best methods and exercises for managing neck pain at home. Neck pain is a very common complaint in Physiotherapy but is one that can be easily remedied.  This post will take you through the common causes, as well as tips on neck pain relief and warning signs to watch out for. 

To begin with, it’s important to understand that the neck runs from the base of your skull to the top of the shoulders. The muscles that attach to the neck can originate from as far down as the lower end of the shoulder blade and continue all the way to the base of the skull (occiput). Commonly what can appear as neck pain can also be referred pain from the shoulder or visa-versa.  Physiotherapists are very knowledgeable in anatomy and are best placed to assess your neck (also known as the cervical spine in anatomical terms) therefore, it is essential when seeking treatment for neck pain that you visit a Physiotherapist for the best advice and treatment.

The most common causes of neck pain

To treat neck pain, the first thing is to identify the cause, enabling the Physiotherapist to prescribe the appropriate treatment in clinic and a home exercise programme. Most commonly, neck pain is caused by sustained sedentary postures for example: sitting at a desk; working on a laptop; browsing on a phone or tablet; or long periods of driving. By doing any of these things, it’s common to adopt a posture that takes the neck out of “normal alignment”.

Normal alignment could be considered as sitting upright with eyes looking straight ahead and the head in a neutral position. Imagine this position as when making eye contact with someone and not looking down, up, or tilting the head to the side for long periods. These positions can put pressure on certain muscles and discs, depending on the angle, and less on others. Instead of evenly distributing load between all areas, it is placed on a small area and therefore triggers pain. Quite commonly these positions can lead to symptoms that medical professionals call ‘wry neck’, where there is a reduction of movement in the cervical spine and spasm of the surrounding muscles. See the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists (ISCP) Working Well in the Office leaflet for advice on correct postural alignment.

If symptoms are nerve-related the pain will be sharp, shooting, and may feel numb or give a sensation of pins and needles. The cause of this type of pain is frequently the same as the reasons already mentioned above. The key issue is therefore sustained positions or postures and is commonly described as achy and nagging and can be relieved with stretching, rest from the aggravating factors, heat or a massage which is all detailed further below.

6 ways to ease neck pain at home

  • Pain relief medication: anti-inflammatory medication or paracetamol is best but always consult with a pharmacist or your GP to check that it’s safe for you to take
  • Apply heat: heat a microwaveable wheat bag and wear for 10-15 minutes making sure this is comfortable and not burning the skin. Repeat every couple of hours in the early stages for the first 2-3 days. Wheat bags are available in various health stores, for example, this Microwaveable Heat Bag from Holland & Barrett.
  • Remain active: go for a walk, swim, yoga, run, or, whatever your normal exercise routine is; provided it’s not increasing your pain and most importantly, avoid all aggravating factors for a few days if possible
  • Get up from your desk: if working at desk, take regular breaks, stand up and move about every 20 minutes and move the neck as previously mentioned
  • Adjust your seated position: make sure the screen you are working at is at eye level (including laptops and tablets)
  • Movement: the best way to treat neck pain (especially a stiff neck) is to move it in all directions little and often throughout the day. If it’s sore in one direction, move into the pain until you feel it, stop at this point, return to centre, and move in the opposite direction. Attempt this 5-10 times every couple of hours, depending on how irritable it is. A small amount of movement at a time is better than a lot at once.

If the pain has not improved considerably after 3 days book in with us for a full Physiotherapy assessment and treatment programme.

Warning signs to look out for

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, make an appointment to be checked by a medical professional as soon as possible:

  • Dizziness
  • Double vision
  • Black outs
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Slurring of speech
  • Pins and needles on your tongue or around your face and mouth
  • Pins and needles radiating down both arms
  • If you have had a bang to the head and are experiencing headaches (go straight to A&E in this case). For more information, see guidance on identifying concussion from Mayo Clinic.

Neck pain can be complex but as mentioned, there are several preventative actions that can be taken and techniques to treat neck pain yourself. The cause of neck pain is not using the phone, working on the laptop, or watching TV. It is doing so for long periods of time without taking breaks or without attempting good postural alignment. Take regular breaks every 20 minutes, keep the neck moving through its full range of motion, and keep active, making sure to do a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise a day at moderate activity.

For persistent neck pain treatment, or a postural assessment and advice, book in for an appointment now. Call or text now on 087 184 9464, email info@nextlevelphysiotherapy.com or fill in our contact form for an appointment.

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