Medical professionals estimate that about seven in 10 people will experience considerable neck pain at some point. But not all neck pain is created equal – neck pain can be the result of a strain in a dozen different muscles, an underlying musculoskeletal condition, a sudden or old injury, joint pain, headaches, cramping, inflamed or damaged nerves, or even referred pain originating at a completely different point in the body. Identifying the cause of your neck pain is the first step in finding neck pain relief. It is, unfortunately, easier said than done.
While seeking remedies is an excellent proactive step in the right direction, your ideal method of pain management might be radically different from a peer with similar but varying neck complaints. As such, not all neck pain treatments and relief methods are created equal, either.
What Is Causing My Neck Pain?
A self-diagnosis of neck pain is generally not a good idea. While you might be able to draw a correlation based on a previous experience or relevant contexts, such as an older neck injury that felt the same, recurring headaches, or a recent diagnosis of a form of arthritis, it’s essential not to be too hasty with our conclusions.
Most causes of neck pain can be narrowed down to four different types: a musculoskeletal issue (muscle cramping, muscle strains, muscle damage, bone damage), a joint or arthritic issue (bone spurs, facet joints, fractures, inflammation, unstable discs), a nerve issue (inflamed or damaged nerves), and referred pain (from nerves further down along the spine, or a shoulder, head, or back muscle).
Certain risk factors exacerbate existing neck problems or make neck pain more likely. These include peripheral neuropathy (alcohol or diabetic neuropathy), aging, smoking, sedentary living, and sudden weight gain. Posture can also play a role – repetitive motions, especially if you turn your head a lot at work in just one direction, can cause a stiff and painful neck over time, leading to recurring, even chronic, neck pain.
Some conditions can mask the valid reason for your pain, and thoroughness is crucial. If you haven’t seen a professional yet, visit your doctor. If possible, request a referral to a specialist for neck and spinal conditions or pain management. Avoid seeking an online diagnosis without the help of a qualified physician who has agreed to see and test your symptoms.
Neck Pain Relief From Home
Neck pain relief and remedies can range from incredibly useful to harmful based on the circumstances and related conditions surrounding your pain.
If your pain results from a muscle strain, facilitating recovery is an essential first step. In other cases, seeking lasting pain relief may be a more immediate concern. Depending on the cause of your neck pain, these different remedies may help:
- Don’t Stop Moving – Regardless of the cause of your neck pain, moderate movement is usually encouraged. Walking – especially outdoors – can help promote injury recovery. Improving your cardiovascular health through more frequent walks will also aid injury prevention.
- Skip the Ice, Bring the Heat – Ice packs and cooling gels can reduce inflammation and swelling and delay muscle healing. Keeping the neck warm may help if your pain is manageable – through shawls, moderate movement, and warming gels.
- Consider Postural Changes – Specific neck movements may put your neck at risk of increased pain or recurring pain, especially if you have a profession that requires a lot of neck turning and twisting. Consider talking to a physical therapist about making occupational changes to help facilitate healing and prevent another pain episode.
- Only Gentle Massaging – Neck and back massages can help bring temporary pain relief, mainly if applied by the hands of a partner or a professional. Avoid anything too rigorous, however, including chiropractic treatments.
- Strengthen Your Neck – Once a medical professional gives you the go-ahead, consider seeking the advice of a physical therapist for neck strengthening exercises. Many neck strengthening exercises can be completed at home with little to no equipment and can help stave off a future injury and promote healing.
Talk to a Physical Therapist or Pain Specialist
A strained muscle or tense shoulder is one thing. But not all neck pain is created equal. As previously mentioned, neck pain can also be a neuropathic issue. A damaged nerve, whether the result of an old injury, surgery, recurring stress, or another issue, can result in chronic neck pain that doesn’t seem to respond to other forms of treatment.
If your pain hasn’t stopped or improved in several weeks, visiting a pain specialist may be a good idea. Diagnostic imaging and a thorough physical examination can help identify the root cause of your neck pain and lead to a better, more effective treatment plan.
For nerve pain, treatments may include non-invasive interventions such as temporary pain relief injections, muscle relaxants, specialized medication, and relief poses to take pressure off clamped or impinged nerves. Anti-inflammatory medication and injections can help calm down swelling, which may be contributing to your nerve issues.
Thankfully, surgery isn’t usually necessary. Most pain specialists will run a gamut of treatment options before considering surgery, and most of these treatments are just as effective, if not more so, depending on the circumstances of the pain. Long-term pain management gives the body time to heal and gives specialists time to identify and address the root cause of neck pain.
Lifestyle Changes for Neck Pain Relief
In addition to home remedies and medical treatments, preventative measures and lifestyle changes can go a long way toward reducing pain and the chance of recurring neck pain. These lifestyle changes may include:
- Quitting Smoking – Smoking can increase the chances of neuropathy and causes of neuropathy, from disc degeneration to cancer.
- Drinking Less – High alcohol use is one of the leading causes of nerve damage and nerve pain.
- Healthier Diet – Obesity and diabetes often correlate with or directly cause nerve damage, neck pain, back pain, and joint pain.
- Stress Management Techniques – Whether requesting fewer hours at work, finding a healthy coping mechanism such as a weekend sport, or getting better sleep, managing stress levels is essential.
- More Movement and Exercise – It doesn’t have to be as rigid as a jogging schedule or a gym membership, but more movement and exercise are often good for back and neck pain.
- Occupational Physical Therapy or Changes at Work – If you work with your body, a physical therapist might recommend postural changes and ingrain healthier movement patterns to avoid recurring injuries from manual labor. Investing in a standing desk setup may be a good idea if you are primarily sedentary at work or requesting a better-quality office chair and desk.
Alongside back and knee pain, neck pain is among adult Americans’ most common chronic or recurring pains. Lifestyle changes and home remedies can do much to alleviate and prevent neck pain, but do not ignore it if it gets worse or refuses to go away. What might seem like a simple muscle strain could be masking something more serious, and getting proper treatment as early as possible is essential.