The neck is a pretty amazing part of your body, but it has a tough job. It holds up the weight of a bowling ball all day long. The bones at the top of your spine, along with your muscles and ligaments, support your head, which weighs about 11 pounds.
It can be a delicate balance. Anything from sleeping wrong to bad posture can cause neck pain, as more than one-quarter of American adults can tell you is true.
What Causes Neck Pain?
Many things can cause your neck to hurt:
- Poor posture
- Repetitive motion
- Bad sleep habits
- Gritting your teeth
- Carrying a heavy shoulder bag or purse
- Pinched nerves
- Sports injuries
- Car accidents involving whiplash
How You Treat It
With treatment, your neck will stop hurting in a few days in most cases. Use medicines like acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen. Put an ice pack on your neck for the first 2 to 3 days to help lower swelling. After that, use moist heat, like a hot shower or a heating pad to help it heal. There are also exercises you can do at home (or in front of your computer at work) to gently stretch your neck muscles.
You can also visit a chiropractor or get a neck massage for short-term relief.
When to See Your Doctor
Call the doctor’s office if your neck pain is severe, doesn’t respond to treatment, gets worse over time, or includes numbness, weakness, or tingling and pain in the arms and legs.
Questions your doctor may ask:
- When did the pain first start?
- Have you been injured?
- Do you have numbness or weakness in your arms or hands?
- Does moving your neck in a certain way make things better or worse?
- Does coughing or sneezing make the pain worse?
Some treatments could include muscle relaxants, physical therapy, a padded neck collar, or traction.
In rare situations, shots of cortisone or even surgery may be needed.
How to Avoid It
The best way to keep from having neck pain is knowing how to prevent it.
Fix your posture to fix your neck pain. Sit or stand with your shoulders directly over your hips and your head straight. Adjust your chair or desktop so your computer monitor is at eye level. Take frequent breaks. Don’t tuck your phone between your ear and shoulder. Use a speakerphone or headset instead. Try not to carry heavy bags with shoulder straps.
Try a different pillow if you’re waking up with a stiff neck. Some people find that a relatively flat one, or one with built-in neck support, works best. Sleeping on your back or side (not your belly) also allows your neck muscles and ligaments to get the rest they need.
There are a number of neck exercises you can do during the day, either sitting or standing. Check with your doctor to see which are best for you.