Neck pain is a common phenomenon that can either last a short number of days or a prolonged period.
Your spine is made up of bones called vertebrae that stack together and form a column with spongy tissue in between each vertebra to act as a cushion. Layers of muscle along the spine provide structural support and allow you to move. Neck pain can be a result of damage to the spine, tissue or muscles and ligaments supporting the spine.
There are various treatments available for neck pain. The most suitable treatment will depend on the cause of the neck pain and the severity of the pain or injury. While for most people minor neck pain can resolve on its own within a couple of days, there are other methods of treatment that can relieve pain including self-care, medicine and exercises.
Remember that any severe neck pain after a neck injury can be a sign of a serious problem. You should consult your doctor or physiotherapist immediately. If neck pain symptoms are accompanied with pain, numbness or weakness in the arms or legs you should seek medical attention straight away, especially if these symptoms come on suddenly or get worse quickly.
Movement and Exercise
Prolonged rest is not advised for neck pain. It is advised that gentle movement and exercise can prevent worsening neck pain and stiffness in most cases of short-term neck pain. The only exception to this is if an injury has caused a pinched nerve, ruptured disc or fracture.
If neck pain is not severe, you should continue your daily activities as much as possible. Additional exercises to reduce pain symptoms may also be used. These exercises are specific and should be recommended by a trained physiotherapist. Exercises may involve gentle rotation, tilting and bending of the neck.
Hot or Cold Treatment
A hot or cold pack may be used to help reduce pain and swelling associated with neck pain. If the pain is new or recently caused by injury, use an ice pack to reduce inflammation, swelling and numb any pain that is present. Wrap the ice pack in a towel to avoid any irritation or burn. Apply the heat for 20 minutes at a time and leave it off for 40 minutes. Repeat if necessary.
“Sometimes it is best to wait 2 days after an injury to apply heat however this depends on the nature of the injury. This is to ensure that the heat does not cause or exacerbate swelling. Wrap the heat pack in a towel to avoid burning skin and apply for 20 minutes at a time. Applying heat to an area increases the blood flow to the affected area, allowing for increased oxygen flow and to reduce joint stiffness and reduce pain.
Support During Sleep
Neck pain can often be caused by bad sleep posture and position. To avoid this and ease neck pain, use a pillow that is firm and supports the natural curve of the neck. If required, buy a contoured pillow that supports your head and neck appropriately. Remove any extra pillows that may cause your neck to bend unnaturally.
Over the counter pain relief can be used for treating neck pain. These can include paracetamol or anti-inflammatory painkillers. Creams and gels may also be used, but not in conjunction with medicines unless advised by your doctor.
Visiting your physiotherapist can prove to be very helpful with treating neck pain. At Fairfield Physio, we use a wide range of treatments and options that include spinal mobilisations, massage for neck muscles, exercises to encourage improved movement and strengthening exercises.
Ways to support your neck while healing
In order to support your neck while it’s healing, it is important to maintain movement and take action to prevent further injury or pain.
Maintaining good posture while sitting and standing throughout the day is essential. Keep your head centered over your spine to reduce strain on the neck muscles. If you work at a desk, make sure you follow advice for ergonomic workstation tips to improve both comfort and safe posture.
Relaxation techniques may also aid in preventing stress and tension in the neck. Your physiotherapist will be able to provide neck relaxation exercises to perform at home.