Treating a Stiff Neck: Should You Stretch It or Rest It?

A stiff neck can make simple movements like turning your head difficult. When dealing with a stiff neck, two of the most common treatment methods are stretching and resting the neck. But which one is more effective? Here are three patients’ experiences with both approaches.

Maria’s Experience

Maria woke up one morning with a terribly stiff neck that she assumed came from sleeping in an odd position. She took some pain medication but still felt uncomfortable turning her head from side to side. Later that day, her friend suggested some gentle neck stretches to help relieve the stiffness. Maria slowly rolled her neck in circles, stretched it carefully from side to side, and did chin tilts to stretch the muscles. She was amazed at how quickly the stretches made her neck feel better and restored her range of motion. The stretches provided both immediate and lasting relief.

John’s Experience

John often gets stiff necks that he attributes to hunching over a computer all day at work. When he recently got a bad crick in his neck, his doctor told him to take it easy and rest the neck as much as possible. John got a soft neck brace to immobilize his neck, took over-the-counter pain meds, used heating pads and ice packs, and made sure not to move his neck. After a few days of this strict rest, the muscles began to relax and stop spasming. Resting was extremely helpful in allowing John’s injured neck to heal.

Emily’s Experience

Emily had woken up with a stiff, sore neck. She decided to take a combined approach – she took anti-inflammatory medication, applied a warm compress to the area, and made sure to rest her neck as much as possible. But she also tried gentle stretches periodically throughout the day. In the morning and evening, she did basic neck rolls and tilts to work out some of the stiffness without overexerting herself. She was careful not to push the stretches too far. The balance of stretches and rest seemed the most prudent path. Within a few days, her neck was back to normal.

As Maria, John, and Emily’s stories illustrate, both stretching and resting can be effective solutions for a stiff, sore neck. Stretches help to actively work out the stiffness and increase mobility. Meanwhile, resting allows strained muscles to relax and heal. Most doctors recommend gentle stretches combined with rest periods. Stretching without adequate rest could cause further injury. Resting alone may lead muscles to tighten up. With the right combination tailored to your injury, you can get back to pain-free movement.