Any number of things could give you a pain in the neck. Stress causes pain and tension all over the body. The way you sleep or not getting enough sleep can do it. Even everyday wear and tear, over time, can cause annoying and sometimes severe neck pain. About 20 percent of people report experiences with neck pain within the past three months, according to recent studies, which is made worse with consistent use of cell phones and the need to bend our necks to look at monitors.
Applying heat or ice to the muscles is the most obvious fix. Try using ice for the first two to three days after injury and switching to heat after that. This, together with pain relievers, can help ease neck muscle injuries. Especially when your neck is already in pain, try to avoid any sudden, jerking movements.
Though overworked muscles can certainly be a factor is neck pain, there could be a number of reasons it occurs.
As you may know, poor posture brought on in part due to more frequent monitor and smart device use can weaken the neck muscles and cause soreness as time goes on. Poor posture is difficult to completely reverse. However, if you take a break now and then from keeping your neck in a certain position for a long period of time, you can avoid getting cramps and general stiffness and soreness.
If at all possible, once an hour is a good benchmark to reach for when it comes to relaxing and stretching your neck muscles. Roll your shoulders back and down. Squeeze your shoulder blades a few times. Bring your ear to your shoulders a few times on each side. Careful, ranged movement is key every now and then to keep the muscles flexible, strong and relaxed.
If you don’t have a yoga routine yet, you may wish to consider starting. Yoga, in general, promotes flexibility throughout the body (not to mention it can act as a booster for your emotional and mental health, too), including the neck.
Stress and poor posture could cause muscles in your neck and shoulders to tense up for long periods of time, which could foster chronic neck pain. If you have the resources, consider hiring a massage therapist to target deep muscle knots and help alleviate pain.
Sometimes you may wake up with a stiff or sore neck, and your sleeping position can certainly play a factor in said soreness. If you sleep on your stomach, this could be the culprit. When you sleep on your stomach, you will have to twist your head to the side on the pillow, keeping your neck in a twisted position for long periods of time. That twist is an unnatural position for your neck and could easily strain your muscles. Using too many pillows when you sleep could also be detrimental to your neck’s muscular health. This could keep your neck in a flexed position all night long, which will also cause you to wake up with soreness. If you find you need to sleep while in transit (for example, on a plane, train or bus), those horseshoe-shaped neck pillows, while not the most fashionable accessories in the world, are quite helpful in preventing neck cramps.
Keeping hydrated can help prevent neck pain and offers, of course, a number of additional health benefits. Proper hydration helps maintain the height of your vertebral discs, which in turn helps with alignment and takes pressure off the spine. As we get older, this hydration becomes even more important as the discs start to deteriorate. By carrying and using a water bottle frequently throughout the day, you may find your neck and other joints feel better. At the very least, you will feel more hydrated.
As we’ve established, keeping your neck in an awkward position for too long of a period of time can cause serious pain and soreness. If you’re going to be looking at a computer monitor all day, as most of us are in our working lives, make sure it’s properly adjusted to the right height for you. The monitor should be at eye level.
Additionally, if you have the ability to use your phone hands-free as opposed to holding a handset between your shoulder and neck, it would be better for your neck. Be sure your work chair is adjusted properly as that, too, can lead to neck pain. Your feet should be able to sit flat on the ground and your knees should be able to fall just a little lower than your hips. While the seat itself is not directly related to the neck, proper spine support will benefit everywhere from the lower back to the top of your neck.
If you need to be using a smartphone or tablet, keep it at a 45-degree angle whenever possible. Keeping these devices flat could create undue strain on your neck. They should be held at eye level whenever possible and as with landline phones, cell phones should not be held between the neck and shoulder if at all possible. Try to take a break from using your smart devices once an hour if possible and stretch properly during the said break to help prevent chronic neck pain.
The good news is usually neck pain is nothing to be overly concerned about, and it has a tendency to go away on its own after a period of three or four days. In rare cases, you should see a doctor if your pain gets worse despite self-care, pain persists for several weeks even with care and medication, the pain radiates down your limbs or if the pain also gives you a headache, numbness or tingling.
Call your local emergency number if you have severe neck pain associated with traumatic injury (such as after a fall or car crash), muscle weakness (if you have trouble moving your limbs, there could be a serious problem), or if you have a high fever (this could be a sign of meningitis).