Neck pain can be unbearable. Neck stiffness is one of the most common muscle pains in adults and children. It is most often caused by poor posture, injuries caused by sports and exercise, due to sleeping on a wrong mattress, and due to repeated movements associated with work (and daily activities). The intensity of stiffness and pain itself depends on the cause and are individual. It ranges from mild discomfort to severe, intense, pain-limiting movements. To avoid having to take painkillers every now and then, follow these few simple tips to help you get rid of neck pain.
What are the most common causes?
By far the most common cause of a stiff neck is the stretching of the neck muscle or the soft tissue that surrounds it. This can be due to sleeping with the head in an unnatural position, sudden movements (in sports for example), and repeated turning of the head to the same side. It can also occur due to improper posture while sitting at a desk and using a computer, or head pointing down while typing on a cell phone. Stress and anxiety can also cause tension in the neck muscles.
Proper sleeping positions
We spend a third of our life sleeping, so it is quite important that we are comfortable in bed. If you have a headache, neck pain or tension, it is important to choose pillows and mattresses that will properly support your neck. With the right pillow, your muscles will relax and your breathing will return to normal. The best sleeping position is the one in which your neck “rests” in a neutral position. Your head should lie flat as a continuation of your spine.
When it comes to the best posture for a stiff neck, by most experts it is definitely sleeping on the side. This sleep style is best for your spine. Be aware that full fetal sleeping position isn’t good for your spine, neck and organs. Putting a pillow between your legs when sleeping on the side, is also helpful.
If you are sleeping on your back, make sure your knees are slightly bent. Use pillows as support. When you sleep on your stomach, your neck is twisted and in an irregular position for hours. If you are sleeping on your stomach though, you will need to choose the right mattress. Here you can find a list of mattresses which can help you with back pain depending on your preferences and your sleeping style.
Should you change your mattress?
It’s hard to say what a perfect mattress is; it all depends on your build, weight and what kind of mattress you like. If your pelvis is a few inches lower than the rest of your body, you shouldn’t be surprised by the pain in your hips and back. Your mattress is too soft.
Most mattresses have a life span of five to ten years, depending on the quality of the mattress itself, your weight, and how much you spent on the bed. If your mattress has a large recess in the middle, you will likely wake up with lower back pain, a pain in your hips or shoulders.
Physical activity and exercise
Exercising regularly is extremely important for controlling stress hormones, enhancing muscle strength, reducing inflammation, improving sleep, and maintaining a healthy body weight. All of these things reduce the risk of further injury. If you have an earlier injury, consult your doctor about exercises appropriate for your condition.
Give yourself plenty of time to recover between exercise and limit the repetition of movements that cause you pain. If the pain becomes very intense, take a break for a few days after exercising. And when the pain starts to ease, start stretching your neck to speed up your recovery.
Stretching to relieve pain
Stretching your neck muscles will help keep them relaxed. Try these easy stretching exercises while driving, or sitting at your computer.
Sit upright and repeatedly squeeze and relax your shoulder muscles. Repeat the exercise 10 times. Slowly rotate your shoulders back 10 times to release build tension. Slowly bend your head so that your ear touches your shoulder. Repeat this exercise 10 times for each shoulder. Gently press your head into the car seat while sitting in it for 30 seconds. If you are not in the car, hold your head with your hands. This will straighten your muscles. If your pain prolongs you could try yoga exercises.
Chiropractors can help you with pain by properly adjusting your spine to reduce muscle tension. They can show you the appropriate exercises you can do at home. Spinal adjustment contributes to reduced pressure on the neck and shoulder muscles, reduces stress and pain, and increases the amplitude of movement.
Stiff neck massage
You can try massaging your neck for a few minutes to relax your muscles and improve circulation. You can also use essential oils to reduce inflammation and pain, such as essential mint oil, which naturally has analgesic properties and reduces pain.
Start by relaxing your muscles in a warm bath or the shower. Mix a tablespoon of base oil such as coconut or olive oil with a few drops of mint oil and massage the sore part with gentle but determined movements for several minutes. If you can’t, ask someone to help you.
High levels of inflammatory substances in the body will make your muscles more vulnerable to pain. It will also weak your joints and bones. If the strength, flexibility of the muscles, and the amplitude of the movement are compromised, you are at increased risk for neck problems. Also, inflammation reduces the ability to recover from injuries.
Preferred foods are green vegetables, salads, virgin olive oil, coconut oil, eggs, fish, yogurt, and kefir. Foods to avoid are so-called “empty-calorie” foods. These include sugar, processed meat, fats, alcohol, chips, figs and the rest of the food in that group.
Heating pads can be used to improve circulation, reduce muscle pain or cramps, and improve muscle flexibility. Put a hot towel on the sore part of the neck and keep it there for 20 minutes. If you are using a hot water bottle, wrap it in a towel to avoid damaging the skin.
Some people also use ice packs, a bag of frozen vegetables or a towel soaked in cold water to relieve swelling immediately after injury. However, ice packs are by no means recommended for stiff muscles or joints.