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Neck Pain and Stiff Neck

Neck Pain and Stiff Neck

Pain in the neck is a very common problem and generally should not be a cause for concern. It usually improves over a couple of days and is rarely a symptom of an underlying condition or serious problem.

Often, stiffness or neck pain is caused by the way we sleep, perhaps in an uncomfortable position or in a draught. Similarly, sitting awkwardly for any length of time, perhaps in front of your computer, can result in a stiff neck.

Anxiety and tension can also cause neck pain as we tend to hunch our shoulders if feeling tense and this can lead to pain. Frequently, however, there is no obvious cause for neck pain and you may find that your GP refers to it as non-specific pain.

Detailed Overview

Managing neck pain at home

Whatever the cause of your painful or stiff neck, you can usually get on with most of your daily activities by taking painkillers to relieve the pain

Regular doses of ibuprofen and paracetamol will help and Ibuprofen gel rubbed into the neck can be particularly effective. Always follow the correct dosage of any painkiller.

Hold a hot water bottle or heat pack to the affected area to help ease the pain and reduce muscle spasms.

Sleep on a low, preferably firm, pillow and avoid pillows which force your neck to bend uncomfortably. Avoid driving if you find that the pain in your neck prevents you from turning your head fully.

Be aware of your posture, particularly when sitting down. Keep your back and neck straight and upright. Poor posture may have caused your symptoms in the first place.

There is no evidence that neck braces actually help with a painful neck. Worse, they restrict your neck movement which could prove dangerous, particularly if you are driving a car.

Try simple neck exercises such as tilting your head from side to side and up and down, while you gently turn your neck from right to left, and left to right. This should increase your range of movement and ease your muscles.

When to see your doctor

Make an appointment with your GP if the pain has not improved after a few days or you are not able to control the pain with pain killers.

Acute torticollis

Acute torticollis is when you awake in the morning with a painful locked or twisted neck which cannot be unlocked or moved. It can be caused by exposure to a draught or sitting in an awkward position and can take up to a week to improve. However, usually, the condition only lasts for 24 to 48 hours and can be managed at home with painkillers.

Arthritis

Neck pain can also be caused by a type of arthritis called cervical spondylosis. This type of wear and tear on the muscles in your neck can create pressure on nerves which then send pain radiating from the neck to the arms. You can try to manage the pain of a stiff neck at home but consult your GP if the pain persists. You may be referred for an MRI scan.