How To Help A Stiff Neck

How To Help A Stiff Neck

There’s nothing that can put a damper on our day like neck pain. Feeling pain and stiffness anytime we turn our head is the last thing any of us need – and it’s one of the main reasons our patients book in emergency appointments to see us. When they come into the clinic, one of the most common things we hear is:

“I just woke up and my neck is killing me. I must have slept on it wrong”

Sometimes, it’s that simple – your neck was in a poor position and now you have pain. For the majority of the time, however, neck stiffness is a bit more complicated…

1. The cause isn’t always your neck

While the cause of your neck pain may lie in the neck structures (vertebrae, the discs between the vertebrae, nerves, bones and muscles), it may also come from your head, jaw, shoulder or upper arm – and be from something you did yesterday, as opposed to the way you slept.

2. Note your other symptoms

Aside from general stiffness, you’re likely to experience other symptoms – and these are great for us to know. You may feel numbness or tingling (which tells us you may have a pinched nerve), light-headed, dizzy or faint (which tells us you may have a pinched artery), have muscle spasms or feel like your bones are rubbing against one another. Noting these and their location can help best guide your treatment.

3. Simple exercises can help

While it’s natural to think that having a stiff neck means that you should keep it as still as possible, moving your neck can actually be very helpful – while keeping it still staring down at your screen or phone may be more harmful. Try these simple exercises:

  • Sitting on a chair, with your back straight and facing straight ahead, tilt your head up towards the sky, then down towards the floor – chin to chest. Do it slowly, and hold for a couple of seconds at the top and bottom. You may feel some pressure or stretching at the back of the neck – that’s okay. But limit the range of movement if the limits are causing you pain. Ten times in both directions. 
  • Move your head slowly from side to side, holding for a few seconds at each side. Ten times. You may feel tension on the left side of the neck when your head is twisted to the right and vice versa. Remember – pressure is fine, pain is bad.
  • Starting facing straight ahead, point your chin out towards you, hold, then bring it in close to your chest, and hold for a couple of seconds. Ten times.
  • Chin tucks. Staring straight ahead, tuck your chin backwards (not downwards) while you move your head backwards (like you’re doing a double chin) and back forwards. Ten times. As with any of these movements, stop immediately if you have pain.
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