10 Ways to Treat Neck Strain

Sore neck muscles? Stiff neck? Neck strain? We all know it's unpleasant to have pain in your neck. Learn how to prevent neck pain with posture techniques, and how to treat it on your own before seeking your doctor.

Sanaz Majd, MD
5-minute read
Episode #237

Most of us have experienced a neck strain, either from overextending the neck muscles or from improper posture. Here's 10 ways to treat sore neck muscles, neck strain, or a stiff neck.

You are driving in your car when 2-year-old Junior sitting in the back seat all of a sudden breaks out in an unbearable shriek.  What could have happened? Did she injure herself somehow? You quickly turn to the right to view the back seat to investigate, when you feel a sudden kink in your neck. Ouch. All to realize that she’s dropped her T-Rex on the floor. I know many of you relate can relate to this monumental toddler tragedy.

More often than not, however, I find patients in the office who have neck pain without a precipitating injury. It just seems to pop up out of nowhere. This can be even more frustrating, not knowing what you could have possibly done to trigger it.

In both situations, the cause is a strain of the neck muscles or ligaments that is typically benign and self-resolving. However, sometimes it can come and go, depending on what is causing it. And in others, neck strain can become chronic if it's ignored.

Let's learn what neck strain is, ten tried and true stiff neck remedies, plus when you should consider seeing your doctor about neck strain.

What Is Neck Strain?

The back of the neck is referred to as the “cervical spine,” and comprises of seven vertebral bones surrounded by ligaments, nerves, and muscles. The central canal of these vertebrae house nerves that send messages by running up and down between the brain and our body. Therefore, if we strain these tissues, the nerves that run through them to feed the body parts can also get inflamed. This can cause numbness and/or tingling down the arm and to the hands.

Once it’s injured, our immune system responds by attempting to patch it up. Therefore it inflames the area, and even may collect extra fluid around it. And when touching it or using that particular muscle, it is painful. It’s our body’s protective way of telling us that we need to allow that part that hurts to heal.

There are two ways in which we can strain this region of the spine. First, by a specific injury that overstrains the neck muscles and other structures. The “whiplash” from a car accident, over extending or improper movement of the neck (such as turning to view the backseat of the car), and direct trauma to the site (such as while playing football) are common ways that people injure the neck.

Another cause is improper posture, especially during prolonged sitting, standing, or poor sleep positions. Very often this is due to work station ergonomics, whether it’s while using your computer at home or at work, or while remaining in the same position for prolonged periods of time.

Diagnosis of Neck Strain

Your doctor can diagnose neck strain simply with a history and physical exam. Without a trauma triggering the event, an Xray or other imaging is usually not necessary for acute neck strain. Imaging can be considered if the pain becomes chronic, which is not frequently the case.

So, what can you do about neck muscle pain? Keep reading for 10 remedies to neck strain and pain, plus, learn when to see your doctor.


Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.

About the Author

Sanaz Majd, MD

Dr. Sanaz Majd is a board-certified Family Medicine physician who graduated from Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. Her special interests are women's health and patient education.