Neck pain that radiates to one side can be annoying and disruptive to your daily activities. While there are many potential causes, the good news is there are also several effective home treatments you can try to find relief. Here are some tips for easing neck pain on just one side of your neck.
Apply Heat or Ice
One of the simplest ways to alleviate one-sided neck pain is by applying something hot or cold to the area. Heat helps increase blood flow to the muscles, offering pain relief and promoting healing. Meanwhile, ice can numb pain and reduce inflammation. Try using a heating pad or ice pack on the side of your neck that hurts for up to 20 minutes several times a day. You can alternate between heat and ice too. Just be sure to wrap ice packs in a towel before applying to prevent skin damage.
Do Gentle Stretches
Gentle stretching can help relax the muscles in your neck and prevent or reduce spasms that contribute to pain. When one side of your neck hurts, focus specifically on stretching that area. Turn your head slowly to tilt your ear toward the shoulder on your sore side. Hold for about 30 seconds, then do the same tilt to the other side. Repeat a few times. You can also try gently rolling your shoulders forward and backward. Stretch your neck multiple times throughout the day.
Poor posture often causes or worsens one-sided neck pain. Sitting hunched over a computer or looking down at your phone strains the neck muscles. Make sure to take frequent breaks from these positions. Set a timer to remind yourself to straighten up and roll your shoulders back. Using pillows for extra neck support can also help if you have to sit for prolonged periods. Additionally, pay attention to your posture when standing or walking.
Get a Massage
Massaging the muscles on the side of your neck that hurts can help reduce muscle tightness and spasms. Use your fingers to apply gentle, circular pressure along the length of the muscles. Focus extra attention on any knots or areas that feel especially tense. You can ask someone to massage your neck for you as well. An electric massager can also substitute for massage by hands. Massage a few minutes at a time, a few times per day.
Try Over-the-Counter Medication
For short-term pain relief, over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or naproxen can help reduce inflammation associated with muscle strain. Acetaminophen is another option for alleviating pain. Just follow dosage recommendations and avoid overuse. Creams containing menthol or capsaicin may provide soothing, localized pain relief when applied to the tender area as well.
Improve Sleep Posture
How you sleep directly impacts neck discomfort, especially if you favor one side. Try your best to sleep on your back. Place a pillow under your knees to take pressure off your lower back. Use one pillow under your head, making sure your neck is aligned neutrally, not turned to either side. If you must sleep on your side, keep your spine straight by putting a pillow between your knees. Also avoid resting your head on your shoulder.
Exercise the Neck Muscles
Doing strength exercises for the neck can help prevent and reduce one-sided pain. Isometric exercises involve contracting the neck muscles without moving the neck itself. For example, press your head forward like you’re saying yes, hold for 5-10 seconds, then relax. Do this in other directions too – sideways, backwards, and diagonally like you’re touching your ear to your shoulder. Start with a few reps each way and build up.
Get Physical Therapy
If home remedies aren’t providing lasting relief, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss medical treatment options. They may recommend prescription medication. Or, they may refer you to a physical therapist for specialized stretches, exercises, and other techniques like transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) to treat neck pain. Physical therapy can target the exact muscles causing discomfort.
See a Chiropractor
Chiropractic adjustments can re-align the vertebrae in your neck and upper back to reduce nerve irritation that leads to muscle tightness and pain. A chiropractor may use their hands or small instruments to manipulate the joints and restore proper mobility. They can detect which side of your neck needs the most adjustments to encourage healing. Multiple sessions are usually needed for the best results.
In the majority of cases, basic self-care measures can successfully treat neck discomfort confined to one side. But severe, worsening, or recurring pain may indicate an underlying condition that requires medical intervention. See your doctor promptly if your one-sided neck pain doesn’t improve within a week or two. Getting the correct diagnosis and specific treatment will help you find lasting relief.