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
Episode #237

Treatment of Neck Strain

Even if you do nothing to actively treat the neck strain, most of the time it will heal on its own as long as the underlying cause has been eliminated. Otherwise, you can help it along with some of the following quick and dirty tips:

1.  Rest: Avoid reinjuring the c-spine. Next time junior decides to drop a bomb in the back seat, do yourself a favor and pull over—or better yet wait until you have reached your destination.

2.  Proper Posture:  Imagine you are being held up with a string like a puppet. Be constantly cognizant of your spine positioning. Shoulders back, head facing forward. Always use the back support of your seat in the car, at work, and everywhere you sit.

3.  Proper Work Station Ergonomics: Some employers offer an ergonomic evaluation. Employers realize that it’s often well worth the cost of the evaluation and equipment, rather than having to deal with a workers compensation case. If not, you can check out the Occupation Safety and Health Administration’s diagrams to learn vital work station posture. And check out the Mayfield Clinic’s page for photos of proper sleep positions.

4.  Ice and/or Heat: Ice aids with acute inflammation and heat loosens the muscles. Rotating each every 20 minutes also can help. But in general, use whatever best relieves the pain.

5.  Stretching:  The last thing you want is to remain inactive. Continuing with your daily routine activities is vital, and stretching exercises on a daily basis can keep the muscles from stiffening.

6.  Anti-inflammatories:  Over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatories, like ibuprofen, are one of the mainstays of treatment. Not only do they help relieve pain, but they also fight the inflammation. A common regimen is ibuprofen 600mg (always with food) three times a day for a time period (like one week), and then as needed. Not everyone can take them, however, so please ask your doctor first.

7.  Pain relievers:  Acetaminophen is another OTC option but lacks anti-inflammatory properties.

8.  Muscle relaxants:  These can help loosen up the muscles for some, but does not attack the underlying problem, which is the inflammation. But they can help as an adjunct to anti-inflammatories. They tend to be sedating, therefore must be taken at bedtime.

9.  Corticosteroids:  If you have numbness and/or tingling down the arm that is associated with the neck pain, another regimen that may be considered is a short course of prescription steroids to quickly calm down the nerve.

10.  Physical therapy:  Physical therapy can aid in strengthening and improving the range of motion of the neck muscles.

It’s always best to air on the side of caution if you are unsure or concerned in any way.

When to See Your Doctor

·         If you’ve had an injury precipitating the pain.

·         If the symptoms last longer than 4-6 weeks.

·         If there are problems with your bowel or urine.

·         If there are other neurological symptoms, like problems with the speech, motor skills, balance, vision, sensation, etc.

·         If it’s progressively worsening despite conservative treatment.

It’s always best to air on the side of caution if you are unsure or concerned in any way.

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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.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Sanaz Majd, MD

Dr. Sanaz Majd, a board-certified Family Medicine physician who graduated from Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. She sees everything from pediatrics to geriatrics, but her special interests are women's health and patient education. She also loves to teach, and has been doing so since her college days.

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