A pulled neck muscle, also known as a neck strain, is a common injury that can cause pain and stiffness in the neck. It happens when the muscles and tendons in the neck are overstretched or torn. Symptoms include muscle spasms, swelling, bruising, and difficulty moving the neck. While a pulled neck muscle usually heals on its own, using Deep Heat and other treatments can help relieve pain and speed up recovery.
What is Deep Heat?
Deep Heat is the brand name for a line of topical creams and gels that produce a warming sensation when applied to the skin. The active ingredients are counterirritants such as menthol, methyl salicylate, and capsaicin. These ingredients work by irritating nerve endings in the skin to distract from deeper muscular pain and relax tight muscles. The increased blood flow to the area may also reduce inflammation. Deep Heat products provide temporary relief for up to eight hours. They are available over-the-counter as creams, gels, sprays, roll-ons, and patches.
Can Deep Heat Help a Pulled Neck Muscle?
Applying Deep Heat to a pulled neck muscle may provide pain relief by:
- Relaxing Tight, Spasming Muscles: The warming ingredients in Deep Heat can help relax the tense, painful muscle spasms that occur with a neck strain. This allows the muscles to elongate and reduces discomfort.
- Increasing Blood Flow: The counterirritants promote increased blood circulation to the damaged tissues. This helps reduce inflammation and speeds overall healing.
- Easing Stiffness and Soreness: By relaxing muscle tightness and tension in the neck area, Deep Heat can make movement less painful and promote range of motion. This also prevents secondary stiffness from muscle guarding.
There is limited clinical research specifically on using Deep Heat or similar analgesic heat creams for neck strains. However, studies support that heat therapy, in general, effectively reduces pain and improves recovery time:
- One study found heat wrap therapy decreased pain by 32% in patients with acute neck and shoulder pain when used for 45-minute sessions four times per day. Relief lasted up to two hours after treatment.
- A review study concluded heat therapy can improve flexibility, range of motion, and extensibility of collagen tissues. This shows potential to help treat pain and stiffness from musculoskeletal injuries.
- In a small study on patients with chronic neck pain, applying menthol-based gel improved pain tolerance, reduced muscle spasm intensity, and caused a mild analgesic heating sensation.
To use Deep Heat for a pulled neck muscle, follow the package directions:
- Clean and dry skin before application
- Apply a thin layer of gel/cream to the sore area 1-3 times per day
- Gently massage into the strained muscle for 5 minutes to increase absorption
- Wait until product fully dries before dressing, up to 30 minutes
- Use for up to 1 week or as directed by physician
The warming, tingling sensation may take 5 to 30 minutes to manifest after application. Although uncommon, some people may experience skin irritation, itchiness, headaches or dizziness. Discontinue use if any negative reactions occur. Do not bandage tightly and avoid contact with eyes, mucous membranes and sensitive skin.
While Deep Heat can temporarily alleviate a pulled neck muscle, other therapeutic treatments are also recommended:
- Cold compresses: Apply ice packs for 15-20 mins several times per day to reduce inflammation in acute injury phase
- Over-the-counter pain medication: Anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain relief
- Gentle stretches and exercises: Slow neck rolls and careful stretching can help relax muscles, restore range of motion and prevent secondary stiffness once acute inflammation subsides
- Massage: Gentle kneading and trigger point therapy by a physical therapist helps relax muscle tension
- Electrotherapy modalities: Options like ultrasound, TENS units and muscle stimulators help relax muscles and promote healing
When recovering from a neck strain, allow 2-4 weeks before resuming strenuous activity, adjust work duties if necessary during recovery, and see a physiotherapist for guidance to prevent re-injury. If severe pain persists beyond a few weeks, see a healthcare professional to assess for complications.
Deep Heat and other menthol-based analgesic creams appear beneficial for supplementing treatment of painful pulled neck muscles when used properly. By relaxing muscles, increasing blood flow, and dulling pain signalling, Deep Heat may accelerate healing if combined with stretch, exercise, massage and activity modification. While research specifically on pulled neck muscles is limited, studies demonstrate heat therapy’s effectiveness for similar muscle injuries. Overall, Deep Heat gel or creams present a safe, accessible option to help manage neck strains along with more comprehensive medical treatment.