An inflamed neck muscle, known medically as acute cervical strain, can cause considerable pain and discomfort. The inflammation is usually the result of muscle overuse, poor posture, injury, or stress. Fortunately, with some basic at-home treatments, you can often find relief. Here’s what you need to know about soothing an inflamed neck muscle.
Start with Rest and Ice
When you first notice pain or tenderness in your neck, avoid activities that strain the area. Take a break from looking down at phones or devices and try to prevent further irritation. Applying a cold compress can also help reduce inflammation and pain signals. Wrap an ice pack or bag of frozen vegetables in a thin towel. Hold it against the sore muscles for 10 to 15 minutes a few times a day. Icing right after noticing discomfort provides the most benefits.
Use an OTC Pain Reliever
Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) can ease inflammation and pain. Follow all dosage instructions carefully when taking an OTC pain reliever. Check with your doctor before use if you take any other medications or have underlying health issues. While medication can offer relief, it’s also crucial to address the source of neck strain through stretches, physiotherapy or posture changes.
Perform Gentle Stretches and Exercises
Stretching increases blood flow to the injured muscles to promote healing. Start with very gentle stretches using supported positions that don’t put additional strain on the neck. For example, lie on your back with knees bent and slowly roll your head from side to side. Or sit upright and tilt your head carefully to each side until you feel a mild stretch. Hold stretches for at least 30 seconds. You can also try easy shoulder rolls and neck rotations within a comfortable range of motion.
Use Hot Compresses
While ice works best immediately after injury, applying heat can encourage continued blood flow after the first 48 hours. Try taking a warm bath or shower focused on the neck and shoulders or hold a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel to the area for 10 to 15 minute intervals. The increased blood flow brings in nutrients and more immune activity to hasten healing. Just take care not to scald or burn your skin.
Get Plenty of Rest
Though it may be difficult to sleep comfortably with a sore neck, getting adequate rest allows your body to devote more resources toward recovery and prevents further overuse. Use pillows to support the natural curvature of your neck and spine. If necessary, sleep in a reclined position. Prioritize sleep during your healing process. Also build in periods of relaxation, minimal screen time and stress relief like yoga, meditation or gentle stretching.
Consider OTC Topicals
Specialized creams, gels, sprays or patches made for muscle pain relief can also ease neck discomfort. These topical products often contain active ingredients like menthol, camphor or lidocaine that provide a cooling or numbing sensation. Look for patches or roll-on applicators that deliver ingredients directly to the site of stiffness or pain. Follow all package directions carefully and note any skin irritation, rash or unwanted side effects.
Book a Massage Appointment
A professional therapeutic massage increases circulation, reduces muscle tension, and relaxes the surrounding nerves and connective tissue. Schedule an appointment a few days after the initial injury once some inflammation has subsided. Mention your neck pain points so the massage therapist can tailor techniques accordingly, perhaps focusing on neck, shoulders and upper back. The right amount of applied pressure can encourage healing without further irritation. Massage may provide both immediate relief and continued benefits.
Consider Posture Modification
Flawed posture often contributes to chronic neck tension. Spending long periods hunched over electronic devices strains the neck muscles. Make simple adjustments like raising laptops and phones up to eye level and sitting with shoulders back while keeping the head balanced evenly over the spine. If pain persists for more than a couple weeks, physical therapy may help retrain posture and build strength to prevent future flare ups. They can also recommend ergonomic aids and exercises tailored to your needs.
See Your Doctor When Necessary
Severe neck pain accompanied by numbness, loss of coordination or weakness could indicate nerve impingement or more serious injury involving vertebrae or disks. Seek prompt medical care if you experience shooting pains into your shoulder or arm. Also contact your physician if swelling, redness, fever or other worrisome symptoms develop. Rare complications like abscesses sometimes arise. Your doctor may order imaging tests or refer you to a specialist like a neurologist, osteopath or physical medicine and rehabilitation physician for additional treatment.
Most cases of neck muscle inflammation resolve within a few days to weeks with conservative at-home care. Implementing a combination of rest, ice, OTC medication, stretch exercises, massage and posture correction helps reduce discomfort and prevent recurrence. But don’t hesitate to involve your doctor if pain persists or you experience alarming symptoms. With the right treatment approach tailored to your situation, you can get back to normal activity levels as strained neck muscles heal.