At some point in your life, you have probably suffered from a "crick in your neck," a painful stiffness that takes its sweet time loosening up and going away. Well, you're not alone. About half of all American adults experience neck pain annually. But the good news is that only about 10 percent suffer neck pain so severe that it limits their ability to carry out a day's activities.
Much of this neck pain is not cause by serious injury or disease and there is no need to see a doctor because this type of neck pain usually responds to over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, naproxen, ibuprofen or aspirin.
Sometimes pain creams or gels with ingredients such as menthol, camphor or capsaicin will do the trick.
Alternating heat and cold packs can help relieve the pain and stiffness. Try placing an ice pack on your neck for no longer than 20 minutes, then replace that with heat from a heating pad set on low, a buckwheat pad heated in the microwave or a warm shower.
Below are some preventive measures you can take to keep neck pain from recurring:
• Adjust your desk, chair and monitor so that the monitor is at eye level. Because many of us spend our working hours sitting at a desk in front of a monitor, it is important to have them adjusted at the optimum levels.
• Avoid tucking the phone between your ear and shoulder. If you're on the phone a lot, invest in a headset.
• Stretch frequently if you sit at a desk for long hours:
Stretch your side neck muscles by holding onto the seat of your chair with one hand and bending your trunk and head in the opposite direction, holding for five seconds. Repeat the movement on the other side.
Pull your shoulder blades together behind your back, hold for five seconds, then relax.
Shrug your shoulders up to your ears, hold a moment, then drop them as low as possible and hold another moment. Repeat this move five times.
• Reduce mental stress as much as possible. Try to maintain a positive attitude. Mental tension translates into muscle tension in the neck, which can lead to stiffness and pain.
• Adjust the headrest of your car so that it supports your head.
• Stay as active as possible. Regular physical activity helps prevent recurring bouts of neck pain.
• Avoid clenching your teeth, which strains neck muscles. If you suffer from bruxism (grinding your teeth when you sleep), wear a mouth splint at night. There are many styles available in the dental section of a well-stocked pharmacy.
• Find a pillow that supports the natural curve of your neck. Do not sleep on your stomach because this puts the neck in unnatural position.
If the pain continues for longer than two weeks, see a doctor.