How Do You Relieve a Strained Neck?

A strained neck, also known as a cervical strain, occurs when the muscles in the neck are overstretched or torn. This can cause pain, stiffness, and difficulty moving the neck. A strained neck is common and can happen from poor posture, sleeping in an awkward position, stress, or a sudden movement like whiplash. While a strained neck can be uncomfortable, there are several things you can do at home to relieve the pain and help it heal faster.

Apply Heat and Cold

Applying heat and cold therapies can be one of the most effective ways to relieve strained neck pain and promote healing. Heat helps increase blood flow to the injured muscles, reduces stiffness, and provides pain relief. Try using a heating pad or warm compress on the affected area for 15-20 minutes several times per day.

Cold therapy like an ice pack constricts the blood vessels, helps control inflammation, and numbs the pain. Alternate a cold pack with heat for 10-15 minutes a few times a day. Don’t place ice directly on the skin. Wrap it in a thin towel first.

Over-the-Counter Pain Medication

For acute neck pain, over-the-counter anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) can provide relief by reducing inflammation. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is another option for pain management. Be sure to follow dosage instructions carefully. Topical creams containing menthol or capsaicin may also help by interrupting pain signals.

Gentle Stretches and Exercise

While it may seem counterintuitive to move a sore neck, appropriate stretches and exercises can help relieve muscle tension and restore range of motion. However, it’s important not to overdo it. Start with very gentle neck rotations, side bends, and chin tilts. Move slowly and stop if you feel increased pain. Low-impact exercise like walking can also facilitate blood flow and healing.

Proper Posture and Ergonomics

Incorrect posture puts extra strain and tension on the neck muscles. Try to maintain good posture by keeping the head level over the shoulders and avoiding hunching or craning the neck forward. Also make sure your workstation is ergonomically set up with the computer screen at eye level. Use a pillow to support the neck when sleeping on your back or side.

Massage Therapy

Massaging the neck muscles helps loosen tightness, relax soft tissue, and improve range of motion. Try gentle kneading and circular motions. Massage lotion can be used for comfort, but isn’t required. Focus on any knots or trigger points where you feel pain. A professional massage therapist can also provide a more thorough treatment session.

Cervical Traction

Applying cervical traction involves gently pulling on the head to stretch the neck muscles and spine. This can be done manually by a physical therapist or chiropractor. There are also over-the-counter devices that provide cervical traction at home. Use caution with traction if you have any disc injuries.

Relaxation Techniques

Mental and emotional stress often manifests physically in the neck and shoulders. Relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or guided imagery help calm the nervous system and reduce muscle tension. Maintain awareness of your posture and try to relax the shoulders down throughout the day.

A strained neck can be very uncomfortable. Fortunately, several conservative at-home treatments are usually effective for managing pain and facilitating healing. Try a combination of heat/cold therapy, OTC medication, gentle stretches, massage, and posture correction. See your doctor if the pain persists for more than a week or progressively worsens. With time and rest, most strained necks will heal well on their own.