How to Treat Neck Pain
Neck pain affects a large portion of the American population, regardless of age. 65% of Americans between 18-34 have either experienced chronic neck pain or care for someone who has.Neck pain can be caused by injury, habits such as bad posture or uncomfortable sleeping, or can simply be an effect of getting older. Regardless of the origin, neck pain, especially if it's chronic, can have a seriously debilitating effect on life. Here are some ways to help alleviate this common problem.
Seeking Immediate Relief
Know when to see a doctor (such as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO).It's important that you first rule out the need to immediately see a doctor. Usually neck pain is due to tension or strain in the muscles, but you should seek attention right away if:
- The pain is accompanied by any numbness.
- You experience any accompanying numbness in the hands or arms.
- You have a shooting pain into your shoulder and down your arm.
Apply heat and cold.Neck pain that is not caused by a serious injury can oftentimes be treated at home by applying soothing warmth and anti-inflammatory cold.
- Holding a heating pad or a bottle of heated water on the affected area for 15-20 minutes at a time can help relax the neck muscles, easing tension and pain, as well as increasing the blood flow and providing plenty of nutrients to the muscles, aiding the healing process. Moist heat such as a hot shower can help, and some people find it useful to apply constant low heat with store brand heat wraps.
- Alternate with cold. Use an ice pack for 15-20 minutes at a time. The cold helps decrease the inflammation in muscles caused by injury or strain, and can help lessen the pain.
Take anti-inflammatory medicine.Use ibuprofen or acetaminophen to temporarily lessen the pain, always following correct dosage. These medications help decrease inflammation of the muscles temporarily. However, over the counter medications should only be used as temporary solutions, not daily remedies.
- Overuse of over the counter pain medications can lead to liver or other organ damage.
- Regular or everyday use of over the counter pain medications can lead to Medication Overuse Headache (MOH). This occurs when a person regularly takes medications that they don't need as a preventative rather than responsive measure, and can lead to an increase in pain, or dependence on medications.
Examining your Lifestyle
Examine your everyday habits.When looking into neck pain, one of the first things doctors will examine is your lifestyle and everyday habits.
- Issues with posture, stress, sleeping habits, or balance can lead to neck and other body pain.
- Look at when your neck hurts the most. Make a list of things you do everyday-sleeping, sitting, working-and look for things you do that may be major contributors to your pain.
Work towards having better posture.Having a good posture keeps your spine properly aligned and takes pressure off of your neck.
- Use your core muscles to hold up your spine and neck when you stand or sit.
- Avoid releasing the abdominal muscles and "collapsing" the spine. This will take significant strain off the spine and neck muscles.
Work and stretch your muscles.Increasing the strength and flexibility of your core and neck muscles can make them more able to deal with strain.
- Try some light exercises, such as smooth, slow shoulder rolls. This can help release tension in the upper shoulders and neck.
- Stretch daily. Stretch your neck by slowly tilting your head towards your shoulder to one side, holding for twenty seconds, then slowly repeating on the other side. Be sure to practice smooth, slow motions-quick jerks can result in strained or torn ligaments and tendons.
Reduce strain at work.
- If you spend a lot of time on the phone, switch to speaker-especially if you are in the habit of holding the phone between your head and shoulder. This posture can put a lot of repetitive strain on the neck.
- Avoid carrying bags or heavy objects over your shoulder with a strap. This can cause strain and tension in the shoulder and neck muscles.
- If you spend a lot of time at a desk, adjust your chair or computer so that the monitor is at eye level to reduce repetitive strain on the neck.
- Take frequent breaks for moving and stretching. Get up, walk around, bend and touch your toes. Being sedentary for long periods of time puts lots of strain on the neck and back..
Reduce stress.Stress and the tension it creates can cause a lot of pain in the neck and shoulders.
- Get plenty of exercise and look at reducing stressors in your life.
- Take a short time each day to simply relax and breathe. Small stress reducers can help alleviate tension and pain. Even a few minutes of deep breathing or meditation can greatly reduce tension caused by stress.
Go to a yoga class.Practicing yoga or doing other daily stretching exercises can go a long way toward alleviating the aches and pains brought on by daily strain and stress.
- Simple yoga poses focused on relaxation and spine movement are great for reducing physical strain as well as stress.
- Find a reliable yoga website for some easy poses that can help with neck pain and tension.
Adjust your sleeping habits.Sleeping in awkward positions can lead to neck pain. Examine how you sleep to determine if a change is needed.
- Be sure that your body is aligned with your head and neck.
- Use a small pillow under your head to avoid over-elevation and curvature of the neck.
- Try sleeping on your back using small pillows under your thighs to help elevate your spine.
- Use a cervical pillow to support your neck and head. Cervical, or orthopedic pillows have contours that keep the neck supported and the head in alignment with the spine.
Seeking medical attention
See your doctor.Almost 60% of Americans say they probably wouldn't seek medical help if they were suffering from chronic neck pain.When the neck pain occurs due to an accident or hasn't improved after several days, seek medical attention. If you suspect an injury, you may need a physical exam and possibly an X-Ray or MRI to determine the extent of the injury. Be prepared to tell your doctor when the pain started, if it is a result of accident or injury, and what over the counter medications you've been taking for relief.
See an osteopathic physician.Once your doctor or a general practitioner has given you initial treatment, you may be referred to a specialist like an osteopathic physician. Osteopathic physicians deal with chronic pain by considering your overall health and well being.
- Be open and honest about your activities so that your osteopathic physician can create an effective treatment plan. Sometimes, the seemingly small details can help your osteopathic physician determine the best course of action to alleviate physical discomfort and rid you of chronic neck pain once and for all. Talk about your habits, lifestyle, and anything that may be of relevance to your condition.
- Follow the treatment plan. The success of any medical treatment and pain management hinges on your ability to follow what your osteopathic physician has prescribed. Remember, your doctor can't help you if you don't follow his or her advice! Take your doctor's opinion seriously.
Be prepared for osteopathic procedures.Understanding what your specialist does can alleviate concerns or worries you may have about receiving treatment, as well as make you more receptive to the benefits of osteopathic medicine.
- An osteopathic physician, like a general practitioner, will ask questions about medical history, lifestyle, and overall physical conditions. Prior to a visit, have as much of your and your family's medical history at hand as possible.
- An osteopathic exam will be much more extensive than a general practitioner's. A Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) will check your posture, spine, and joints, as well as examining various bones, tendons, and muscles.
- OMTs (osteopathic manipulation techniques) are used by D.O.s to treat chronic pain. Akin to massage, OMT techniques involve the D.O. pushing and moving muscles, and sometimes holding a muscle in place in order to relieve tension.
Get advanced osteopathic treatment.Advanced treatment may be necessary for severe chronic pain cases. D.O.s sometimes use the same musculoskeletal surgical procedures as other doctors, but evidence suggests that OMTs are usually the most effective methods. Typically, an osteopathic physician will use techniques somewhat similar to chiropractic such as gentle mobilization and spinal mobilization to work with patients in a whole body (holistic) manner.
What do I do if I slept wrong and have neck pain?
- Take a holistic approach to bettering your body health. Overall wellness can really improve such specific ailments as neck pain.
- You may want to consider other lifestyle improvements, such as quitting smoking, making sure you get enough sleep, or having a healthier diet-these are holistic aspects that together can have an effect on pain.
Video: How to Treat a Neck Sprain
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