Waking up with a stiff, sore neck that makes it painful to turn your head can ruin your entire day. But with the right treatments and a little patience, you can get relief from a strained neck. Here are some of the most effective remedies to help get rid of neck pain and regain your range of motion.
Use Cold and Heat Therapy
One of the first things to try for a newly strained neck is cold therapy. Applying something cold to the area can help reduce inflammation and pain. Try wrapping ice cubes or a frozen gel pack in a thin towel and holding it against the sore muscles for 10-15 minutes. Do this several times a day for the first 2-3 days after straining your neck. After a few days, switch to heat therapy. Apply a heating pad or warm compress to the neck for 10-15 minutes to increase blood flow and loosen up tight muscles. Alternate between ice and heat to get the benefits of both.
Gently Stretch and Massage the Neck
Once the initial pain has subsided, try doing some gentle neck stretches and massage. Slowly tilt your head from side to side and forward and back as far as you comfortably can. Use your hand to gently pull your head forward to stretch the back of your neck. Next, with one hand on the back of your head, carefully pull your head back to stretch the front. Avoid any movements that cause sharp pain. Massage sore muscles by kneading the sides and back of the neck with your fingers. A handheld massager with heat and vibration can also provide relief.
Use a Cervical Collar or Traction Device
Wearing a soft cervical collar or using traction can take pressure off a strained neck and prevent additional injury. Cervical collars are adjustable neck braces that limit mobility so your muscles can rest and heal. They immobilize the head and neck while still allowing you to move your lower body. Traction gently stretches the neck to take pressure off compressed joints, nerves and discs. You can get traction from a chiropractor or physical therapist, or use an at-home traction device. Use either option for short periods during the day.
Improve Your Posture
Faulty posture is one of the most common causes of neck strain. Make sure you maintain proper head and neck posture whether sitting, standing or sleeping. When using electronics or reading, position devices at eye level rather than looking down. Place pillows to support your neck if lying on your back, and use a pillow between your shoulder and head if sleeping on your side. Holding your neck in proper alignment minimizes unnecessary strain.
Try Therapeutic Yoga Poses
Certain yoga poses can provide relief for a strained neck when done slowly and carefully. The chin to chest pose involves tilting your head forward to stretch the back of the neck. The supported fish pose uses props to arch your back and open the front of the neck. Doing 5-10 neck rolls in each direction mobilizes the spine. Always stop if you feel sharp pain during any pose or stretch. Proper form is important to avoid injury, so follow along with a yoga video or instructor.
Consider Physical Therapy
For moderate or severe neck strains that don’t improve with home treatment, make an appointment with your doctor. They may prescribe physical therapy to help regain range of motion and strengthen the neck muscles. A physical therapist can provide hands-on joint and soft tissue mobilization. They will also design a rehab program with exercises specifically for your strained neck. Physical therapy often effectively resolves persistent neck strains.
Get a Chiropractic Adjustment
Seeing a chiropractor is another option if you don’t find relief from self-care. Chiropractors use manual spinal manipulation and mobilization techniques to improve neck joint function. They can also incorporate other therapies like traction, massage, heat/ice treatment and electrical stimulation. Some people find chiropractic adjustments very helpful for treating strained neck pain. Multiple visits may be needed to fully resolve the strain.
Allow Time for Recovery
One of the most vital remedies for a strained neck is giving it adequate time to heal. Avoid activities that aggravate your pain, like exercise, heavy lifting and looking down at phones and laptops. Take frequent breaks at work by getting up and walking around. Do gentle stretches periodically to relieve muscle tension from sitting. Support your neck with pillows when resting. Within a week or two of rest, light activity and conservative treatment, most mildly strained necks heal completely.
Dealing with neck strain can be a literal pain in the neck. By taking anti-inflammatories, using ice/heat, resting your neck and improving posture, you can start to feel better. If home treatment doesn’t provide relief within a few weeks, see your doctor to explore medication, injections, physical therapy or chiropractic care. With the right remedies, your strained neck should be moving freely and pain-free again soon.