What can I do to stop my neck from hurting?

Matthew F. McCarty, MD
Most neck pain will go away in days with rest, gentle stretching, NSAIDs or Tylenol for pain. Cold therapy such as ice for acute spasm and strain can be useful and even alternated with heat. Massage is often helpful for persistent spasm. After these measures alone have failed, muscle relaxants and if necessary mild opioids can be administered if sleep interruption starts to develop. At this point further investigation is warranted.

For this persistent pain more interventional techniques can be used. First, an underlying cause should be determined after a thorough history and physical exam with review of diagnostic films. If persistent spasm is present then trigger point injections can be helpful. Causes such as inflammation of nerve roots or the spinal cord or painful facet joints can be treated with epidural steroid injections or steroid facet joint injections respectively. For longer relief of this facet joint mediated pain, radio-frequency thermo-coagulation of the facet joints tiny sensory nerves can offer relief for months up to a year.
You can perform gentle stretches to help your neck pain. Stretches should include putting your ear to shoulder on both sides, putting your chin to chest, looking up at the ceiling, and putting your chin to armpit on both sides. Each stretch should be held for about 30 seconds, and you should repeat each stretch two to three times per session.

You can also help improve range of motion and decrease pain by moving your neck in circles in both directions. An athletic trainer may use heat, massage, or traction to help your neck pain.

(This answer provided for NATA by the University of Alabama Athletic Training Education Program.)
Harris H. McIlwain, MD
Treatment options for neck pain:
  • apply moist heat twice daily to affected areas
  • do neck, back, and shoulder exercises
  • stretch daily
  • lose weight
  • reduce stress in the neck and shoulders if you feel muscle tension
  • work on sleep quality
  • talk to your doctor about medications to ease pain, if needed
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Posture is a driver for many injuries and a lot of discomfort that we have today. Whether it is how someone sits at work, whether it is how they sit in their car, or the position that they are in when they watch television or on their computer, but eventually our body slouches forward and our head falls further and further and further forward. This puts a lot of strain on the muscles and the tissues around the neck and can lead to soreness and discomfort. So if we come back to posture, working on doing some stretching or flexibility technique for the hip flexors, the chest latissimus muscle, working on some basic meditation techniques, some deep breathing techniques when we are lying on the ground or on a table or floor or mat where our neck can relax can be something that can be helpful. Doing some basic flexibility techniques for some of the muscles around the neck and just being very aware of the position that we are in. One thing that you can try as well is you can try to pull the chin towards the body, just gently, and gently press the tongue to the roof of your mouth, it will help to strengthen some of those smaller stabilizer muscles around the neck. Visualize a string on the top of your head gently pulling straight up in the air. So you should be up tall as often as possible, practicing flexibility techniques on a daily basis, and paying extra good attention to your posture and body mechanics for neck pain. Feel free if it persists to see a licensed healthcare practitioner to help make sure there is not a more serious injury. Massage therapy can help reduce pain, but attention to posture and regular stretching and strengthening exercises are a must.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Neck pain is one of the most common muscle ailments. Watch as Dr. Oz offers tips on how to keep your neck and spine pain-free in this video.

Rick Olderman
Physical Therapy
Neck pain is usually due to three problems:
  1. problems with the shoulder complex
  2. the shape of the thoracic spine and consequently the cervical spine
  3. problems in how the head moves. Let’s briefly talk about each of these
How Your Shoulders Create Neck Pain
The shoulder girdle is unique in the body because it is a floating system held in place by muscular control. With respect to neck pain, two of these muscles connect directly from the shoulder blade to the cervical spine as well as base of the skull. When muscles controlling the shoulders are not functioning properly, stress is delivered to the neck along these attachments. Consequently neck pain ensues due to excessive compression, sidebending, or rotation of the vertebrae. Because one of these muscles also connects to the base of the skull, the head will also rest or move incorrectly, affecting the muscles traveling from the cervical spine to the skull.

The Shape of Your Spine
A second major stressor to the neck is the shape of your spine. Most people have a normal curve to their upper thoracic spine. However there is a lot of variability to this. Some people have rounder thoracic spines and some have flatter. Both extremes affect the curvature of the cervical spine. When the curve of the spine is affected, it changes how we move the neck for instance when we turn to look over our shoulder or look down to our chest. This causes irritation to tissues within the neck creating pain and headaches as well.

How Does Head Movement Create Neck Pain
Finally, there is variation in how people move their heads when nodding and looking over their shoulder. Again, this is often linked to the shape of the spine and the pull of the shoulder girdle on the neck and head. Subtle changes in how you move your head can have an enormous impact on the function of the cervical spine and therefore pain.

How to Stop Neck Pain & Headaches
In my experience, addressing the shoulder complex is often the largest culprit of the three issues. Easy things to do would be to raise the armrests of your chairs so your arms are resting higher and therefore your shoulder complex is supported. This will take an enormous burden off the neck and head. When at home watching TV, get out some pillows to rest the arms, again unloading the neck. 
Dr. Mike Clark, DPT
Oftentimes neck pain is caused by poor posture. Poor posture can be indicated by your head pushing forward, your chin jutted out, and your shoulders being rounded. Poor posture causes the muscles in the front of your neck and the muscles on your shoulder blades to get weak. In addition, the muscles of your chest, upper shoulder and neck area get tight. To correct this, do the following:
  1. Maintain proper posture (to maintain proper posture, tuck your chin, keep your eyes straight, and keep your shoulders back and balanced).
  2. Stretch your chest muscles (pectoralis major). Perform the wall chest stretch and hold for 30 seconds.
  3. Stretch your neck muscles (levator scapula). Perform the side and back of neck stretches and hold each stretch for 30 seconds. 
  4. Strengthen your upper back muscles (rhomboids and middle trapezius). Perform the staggered stand cable row and the ball cobra exercises to strengthen weak back muscles. Do 1-3 sets of 12-20 repetitions of each exercise with light weight.
Steven Shoshany, DC
Chiropractic Medicine
Neck pain can be treated in a variety of ways. In this video, I will describe several approaches.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.