When your neck pain is causing you any level of distress it is important to address it and do what you can to make it feel better. Even those with chronic neck pain need viable pain management. While there is no magic pill to take away all of your neck pain, there are quite a few things you can try to reduce your neck pain. Below are some of the best ways to relieve neck pain fast and simply.
Topical Pain Creams
Topical pain relief creams are one of the fastest paths to temporary neck pain relief. Simply rub on the cream and allow it to help ease the stiffness and discomfort of your cervical spine. Creams are beneficial because they can target a specific area that needs help instead of impacting the entire body like an oral medication does. Topical pain relievers also tend to act quickly because they are localized at the site of pain.
The main pain-relieving ingredient that is active in most topical pain relief creams is trolamine salicylate. Trolamine salicylate is a relative of aspirin and is known for its pain-relieving properties. In fact, it is helpful for muscle soreness, sprains, strains, and even arthritic pain. It works to reduce swelling and therefore temporarily reduce pain.
Even more, topical pain creams can be used on other areas of pain such as the lower back, upper back (shoulder blade area), and even with shoulder pain — remember that all of these soft tissues and ligaments that run through your body are all connected!
Nothing is better than a good stretch of the neck, especially when neck strain and neck stiffness are involved. When you are feeling tight from a long night of staring at your phone or laptop with poor posture (two very common causes of neck pain), a stretch may be exactly what you need to release some tension and relieve your pain and likely muscle strain. By stretching you can elongate the muscle fibers in your neck and increase flexibility.
Below are some helpful stretches to reduce neck pain:
- Neck rolls – Neck rolling is the slow-motion of moving your neck in a circle. Begin by rolling your neck clockwise for 5 rotations, then counterclockwise for another 5 rotations. Continue for at least 2 cycles.
- Head grabs – Place your right hand over your head to grab the left side of the face. Gently pull your head so that the right ear touches the right shoulder. Use your hand to provide gentle traction and stretch to the neck. Repeat on the opposite side.
- Camel and cat pose – Get on your hands and knees. Drop your belly towards the floor to arch your back and lift your head towards the sky. Hold for one breath. Then round out your belly to concave, pushing your spine upward, and send your head facing the floor.
All of these stretches should help to loosen the neck and reduce any tension that’s built up from long periods of being in one position. Complete them as many times as feels good.
OTC Pain Relief
Over the counter pain relief is a common way to reduce pain and inflammation of almost any part of the body. Pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), naproxen (Aleve), and ibuprofen (Advil) all help to reduce the amount of pain you are in. However, acetaminophen does not help with reducing inflammation. Therefore, NSAIDs like ibuprofen and naproxen are your best bet.
The pro to oral analgesics is that they are convenient and can be easily taken with you wherever you go. While oral pain relievers can be helpful and effective, they do also have a downfall of increased systemic side effects and delayed onset of relief.
When using these it is important to consider your current health status and any implications of use such as liver toxicity (which is most common when you’re taking similar medications or medications that get processed by your liver). Make sure you don’t use these regularly, and if you find your pain is regular, seek medical advice from your primary care provider for more long term solutions.
Get a Massage
Massaging the muscles is a more hands-on way to reduce the tension and pain you may feel in your neck.
Getting a massage helps to flush toxins out of your body that can cause pain, as well as manually release muscle tension and boost feelings of wellness. Treat yourself to a massage from a licensed massage therapist to get the best results from the massage.
Also, because the neck is a very sensitive area with important blood vessels and nerves it is important to have a well-trained professional perform a deep massage. It is okay to have a light and superficial massage done by a trusted friend or family member, but it is important to be gentle so they do not cause you any unintended damage.
Some physical therapists and even chiropractors do perform manual manipulations but note this isn’t quite the same as a professional deep tissue massage.
After rest, ice is the next step in recovery from a muscle-related pain. Ice helps to reduce inflammation and swelling by decreasing the blood flow to the area. The reduced inflammation can help to reduce pain and make you feel more comfortable during the healing process.
When using ice you should not apply it directly to the skin, but instead should place it inside of a towel or bag to reduce tissue damage to the skin. You should also never leave it on the skin for more than 15 to 20 minutes.
If you are looking for a similar result to ice without all of the hassles, a menthol product could be exactly what you are looking for. Menthol has a similar cooling effect to ice and is a helpful product to soothe your muscles. Menthol can be found as a roll-on gel or in a gel patch that can be applied to the neck and left on to give a cooling sensation to the muscles.
Warmth works in the opposite way of ice to increase blood flow to an area. Warmth can be given in a warm washcloth, heating pad, or even a warm shower or bath. It helps to relax the muscles and can make you feel less tense. Imagine your body tensing up in a cold shower, and relaxing in a warm shower.
The same thing occurs when cool or warm is applied to an area of the body. Because warmth can cause vasodilation, it is important to take care if you experience changes in blood pressure, are dizzy, or have sensitive skin. It is important to not leave it on for longer than 15 to 20 minutes because it could cause damage to the skin. Also, do not use heat if an injury has recently occurred to your neck within 48 hours, as you do not want to add any unnecessary inflammation.
Otherwise, using heating pads and other sources of heat is generally very beneficial, which is why you’ll notice a physical therapy session often ends with heating pads on the affected body parts.
Immobilization and Support
When muscles become overworked, the best thing may be to let your muscles rest. This is a common recommendation made by health care providers to support the healing of strained muscles. The neck can be a difficult part of your body to keep still, so you may need help from braces and support.
Your doctor may give you a soft support collar that will hold your head and neck in place so you do not accidentally move it. It is similar to an inflatable donut that goes around your neck. Your head will rest on the “donut” and support it to allow the neck to rest.
Another option is to use back support, which inadvertently reduces the amount of work your neck has to do and helps support good posture.
Either way, the principle is the same: keep the movement of the neck to a minimum so that it can rest and have an adequate healing environment.
When To Be Concerned
The neck is a very sensitive area, and if not cared for properly could cause serious vascular or nervous system damage. For this reason, great care should be taken when considering neck pain.
So, when should you be concerned and when should you consider going to the doctor?
As a general rule of thumb if the pain is mild or moderate and does not go away for several days, visiting your healthcare provider is a good idea. Additionally, if you are experiencing sharp, intense pains, or nerve pain you should see your healthcare provider immediately.
If you have any injury to the head, neck, or spine, you should consult your doctor immediately even if you’re not experiencing severe pain, as you could experience severe complications if left untreated.
Neck pain can be caused by anything from too much time on your phone to a serious health complication, so it is important to listen to your body and work with your healthcare provider to make you safe, healthy, and comfortable.
If your pain can be managed at home, consider using these tips and tricks to get fast (but often temporary) pain relief for your neck. Topical pain relievers, warmth and ice, rest, massage, stretching, and over the counter pain relievers are all helpful ways to reduce neck pain.
In addition to these treatments, it is important to implement preventive measures to reduce the amount of neck pain that you have. These include regular stretching and having proper posture.