How to Alleviate Neck Pain and Stiffness… Without Painkillers!
Do you have a stiff or painful neck?
Does your neck often hurt or just feel uncomfortable?
Does tension in your neck make it hard to turn your head as easily as you used to?
If this sounds like you, you will know that pain or stiffness in your neck can affect your wellbeing and make everyday activities difficult.
Driving becomes harder (think reverse parking), and so do social situations – talking to people on either side of you involves shifting your whole body, rather than just turning your head.
Stiffness in your neck can affect your sleep as well, causing difficulties falling asleep or waking you in the middle of the night. Tension in your neck muscles can also lead to headaches.
What if you could get rid of some of that tension? Relieve the stiffness, move more easily and feel less pain?
Why Is It So Important to Relieve Neck Pain?
You might be used to the stiffness by now. Of course, you don’t like it, but it’s been there for a while, and you don’t believe you can do anything about it.
Unless there’s an underlying structural issue causing your pain, you almost certainly can do something to relieve this tension and stiffness.
A stiff neck can affect you in several ways, so you shouldn’t ignore it.
Neck stiffness can make it harder for you to get comfortable in bed (one pillow is too soft, another too hard!). You might struggle to go to sleep or wake up in the night because you can’t find the right position.
You might sleep fine but wake up in the morning with a really stiff neck (which can cause a lot of pain and distress).
Sufficient, good-quality sleep is vital for rest, healing, and energy levels. And that’s not even touching on the impact on our mood. How much happier and more positive do you feel about life when you wake up after a great night’s sleep?
Having a stiff neck can affect your posture. You may find it harder to stand up straight or to practice good posture while using your computer or tablet.
Poor posture has a negative impact on your energy levels, as it affects the way you breathe. Try this quick exercise to understand this properly:
Round your upper back, tuck your chin towards your chest, and do your best ‘slouching’. Don’t worry if you are really exaggerating it for effect. Breathe in as deeply as you can.
Now pull up tall. Imagine there’s a string through the top of your head and straighten up as much as you can. Look straight ahead and take a deep breath in.
Did you notice the difference between the size of the breath you took in each position? Extrapolate that across the whole day and think about how much more oxygen you will get in if you are standing up tall more of the time.
Posture also affects your self-esteem and confidence. We all feel better about ourselves when we can stand up tall and feel proud of ourselves.
Balance and posture are tightly related. When we start to stoop (whether that’s due to neck pain or other factors), it’s harder to maintain our balance. Sometimes it seems safer to look down at the ground, but this affects our centre of gravity and makes us more likely to fall.
So, to keep our balance and reduce our risk of falling, we need to be able to stand up tall and look straight ahead. Reducing stiffness and tension in your neck will help you to do this more easily.
You can find free and helpful, easy to do exercises in the in this 4-week Balance Boost video series.
So, if we want to have good posture, better balance, and to sleep well, we need to take action to reduce neck stiffness or tension.
Steps to Do Every Day to Prevent or Reduce Neck Pain
Using screens is one of the biggest causes of neck pain. Here are some tips to avoid experiencing the ‘tech neck’:
- put your phone or tablet on a stand for prolonged usage;
- connect your laptop to a large monitor for viewing at eye level;
- increase the font or wear suitable glasses when viewing a screen;
- take regular screen breaks.
Sleep with the Right Pillow for You
The type of pillow you should use depends on whether you are a side, front, or back sleeper. However you sleep, try to keep your head and neck aligned with the rest of your body. A physical therapist or osteopath may be able to advise you further.
Reduce Stress and Tension
Taking more time for yourself and prioritising activities that bring you joy and happiness can help. You could also think about creating more time for relaxation and sleep.
When it comes to external stressors, think about possible ways to change how you respond to them or to reduce your exposure to them.
Whatever you are doing, whether exercising or going about your day, think about relaxing your shoulders. Don’t hold them stiffly up to your ears! This holds especially when you are sitting at the computer, but in many other situations as well.
If your neck gets cold, it is much more likely to revert to its usual stiffness. I know my neck gets much worse when I am out in the cold and haven’t wrapped up sufficiently.
Even if it’s hot and you haven’t thought about jackets for weeks (or months!), you might find the air conditioning indoors leaves your neck ‘freezing up’. So, keep a scarf with you at all times and make sure to wrap up warm when the temperature drops.
Keep as active as possible and keep all your joints as mobile as you can. Your neck isn’t an isolated part of the body.
For example, tightness in your lower back could affect your neck, or the fact that you are too sedentary can cause everything to seize up a bit.
So keep all your muscles and joints as mobile, supple, and healthy as you can. Don’t overdo it though – build up gradually and perform a variety of activities and exercises. If something doesn’t feel good, listen to your body or talk to a professional.
The Strong Foundations video series provides home exercises to help you stay active every day.
Symptoms That May Require a Visit to Your Doctor
Below you will find a couple of short exercise videos that will help alleviate your stiff or painful neck. Firstly though, I would suggest that you make an appointment with your doctor if you have any of the following:
- Severe pain shooting down your arms
- Weakness, numbness, or tingling in your arms or legs
- Problems controlling your bladder or bowels
- Sudden clumsiness
- Balance issues
- Severe headache
- A recent accident or injury
- Any other concerns or reason to suspect that your neck pain is due to anything other than muscle stiffness or tension.
- You may know that neck stiffness can be a sign of meningitis. If you have any of the following symptoms at the same time as neck stiffness, you should visit your doctor or go to a hospital urgently:
- Sudden and high fever
- Increased sensitivity to light
Exercises That Can Alleviate Neck Pain
Having said that, it’s most likely that your neck stiffness is a result of muscular tension and poor posture in everyday life (especially when using technology).
It may also result from a common condition such as arthritis, stenosis (a spinal condition where pressure develops on the nerves), or an issue with a disc.
In these cases, doing simple stretches and mobility exercises may help you to reduce stiffness and get your neck moving more easily again.
Remember, none of these exercises should hurt at all. Move within a comfortable, pain-free range of motion (that means that a smaller movement which doesn’t hurt will do more good than a larger movement which causes pain).
You can do these seated or standing and perform them as often as you want during the day.
Think about pulling up tall, looking straight ahead, and breathing regularly.
You can do these exercises anytime during the day. You may find that they help you to get moving in the morning (start very gently if you have just got out of bed, as everything will be a bit stiffer).
You may also enjoy doing them before some more vigorous activity or when you are stiff after driving or working at your computer.
You will notice these aren’t strictly stretches, they are really mobilisers. These lubricate the joints, warm up the muscles, and get everything moving. Move gently and don’t go to the point of pain. Keep your chin tucked in all the time for these two exercises.
Back of Neck Posture Stretch
This one seems a bit odd at first but it’s a great stretch, especially if you want to improve your posture.
I hope these everyday tips and exercise videos will help you with your neck pain and tension.
What causes your neck stiffness? When do you notice it and how does it affect your life? How would you feel and what would you do differently if you didn’t have a stiff neck? Join the conversation in the comments below!