Every day, we encounter many discomforts and one of the most common is a stiff neck. This discomfort may be associated with different factors and treatment depends on its cause. A stiff neck is commonly characterized by difficulty moving the neck especially when turning your head to either side or both accompanied by pain. In some cases, one may also experience headache, pain and tingling sensation on the arm or shoulder, and in more serious conditions, fever, vomiting, headache, and more.
Someone who has a stiff neck may experience these symptoms for a couple of days to a week. The severity of the pain may range from mild to extreme pain to the point where one is limited to do motor skills that involve the upper part of the body.
Common Causes of Stiff Neck
Several causes are common to everyone but some cases have underlying conditions being the reason why this ailment is being experienced. The most common causes of this discomfort are muscle strain or soft tissue sprain due to sleeping with the neck at an awkward position, injuries that are caused by sudden impact on the neck and proximal areas like falls and sports injuries, poor posture like slouching or prolonged periods of watching the monitor with head tilted up or down, activities that involve repeated turning of the head from side to side or looking up and down like swimming, and even emotional and physical stress that brings tension on the neck part.
Serious physical conditions also manifest symptoms that lead to stiff neck. The most common is a Cervical Spine Disorder. Your cervical spine region encompasses bones, joints, muscles, blood vessels, nerves, and even your spinal cord that runs in the center of your vertebrae in your neck. Any injury that involves and affects these integral neck parts may lead to this discomfort. It may also lead to possible neurological problems that are accompanied by symptoms such as fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, or any other signs of infection. Once you experience these signs and symptoms accompanied by a stiff neck, seek medical attention immediately.
Other cervical disorders that indicate serious problems accompanied by the signs and symptoms listed above include Cervical Spondylosis or Cervical Osteoarthritis, Cervical Herniated Disc, Cervical Stenosis, and Cervical Myelopathy. These medical conditions need immediate medical consultation.
Home Treatment for Stiff Neck
Massages help in increasing the circulation of blood through our body. To facilitate a soothing effect, you can first take a warm shower or bath. After, apply warm olive, coconut, or mustard oil over the affected area and massage gently for several minutes. You can either ask someone or a massage therapist if you are unable to do it yourself.
2. Neck Exercises
To facilitate neck exercises, (1) sit up straight while keeping your body relaxed. (2) Nod your head forward (towards your chest) and backward (towards the sky). Repeat these motions for few minutes. (3) Tilt your head alternately down towards your right shoulder and then towards your left shoulder. Repeat for few minutes. (4) Lastly, without turning your body, slowly turn your head and look to the right, then look to the left. Alternate these movements repeatedly for few minutes.
Doing neck exercises is performed with caution and should not be done if it hurts too much. Another physical activity that facilitates neck exercises is by swimming. It doesn’t only help coordinate the whole body muscles by moving but also relieves tension on the neck muscle area.
3. Cold Application
To aid in reducing the pain being experienced with a stiff neck, cold compresses is the most common relief as cold temperature has a local numbing effect. Wrap some ice cubes in a thin towel to make a compress. Hold the compress against the painful area for 10-15 minutes. Repeat every 2 hours for the first 48 hours. Do not apply ice directly on the skin.
4. Heat Application
Heat application facilitates blood flow through the affected area, thus, reducing stiffness of the neck. Just apply hot compress using a heating pad, hot water bottle, heat wrap or hot towel on the neck area for 10 minutes. Repeat 3-4 times a day until complete relief. You may also stand in the shower and run warm to slightly hot water on your neck for five minutes while keeping your neck still. Repeat 2-3 times a day.
5. Epsom Salt Bath
An Epsom Salt has a chemical compound called Magnesium Sulfate that helps in relieving stiff neck. For this, you need to fill a bath tub with warm water and add two cups of Epsom Salt. Submerge in the tub with warm water up to your neck area for 15-20 minutes to achieve desired relief. The warm water also helps in blood circulation throughout the body. This remedy is not advised for those who have kidney problem and diabetes.
6. Camphor Oil
The soothing effect of menthol and analgesic property of camphor help in reducing pain and discomfort. You can either massage your neck with warm camphor oil or soak a cloth in cold water with camphor oil and apply in on the affected part for 10-15 minutes.
7. Apple Cider Vinegar
To experience the anti-inflammatory effect, soak a clean cloth with raw apple cider vinegar and apply it on the affected area. Let it stand for few hours. You can also add two cups of apple cider vinegar to your warm bath water and soak for at least 15 minutes.
8. Cayenne Pepper
Cayenne pepper contains capsaicin that has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties that help relieve pain and inflammation in stiff neck. As a remedy, mix 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper powder in 2 tablespoons of warm olive oil and apply it on the affected area. Cover it with bondage and let it stand for few hours. Some over-the-counter cream or lotion has cayenne pepper or capsaicin in them which can be used to massage the affected area.
9. Skin Scrapping
Skin scraping is a very popular traditional practice in China (called Gua Cha) and Vietnam. It uses drops of massage oil on the affected area and scrapes the area with a dull spoon to produce bruising. This action is supposed to promote blood flow to the area as well as remove toxins or other unhealthy elements from the area. This shouldn’t be done with much force to prevent more pain.
Horseradish has a numbing effect which is effective for pain relief. Apply freshly incised horseradish on the affected area and leave it for a while. This may leave the affected area numb with some burning sensation, however, it is tolerable. Be cautious not to leave it for a long period of time.
- Sleep in a proper position. Use a proper pillow while sleeping. Don’t sleep with too many pillows. Ensure that you sleep for 7-8 hours.
- Check your sitting posture, especially at work. Take a 5 minutes break after every hour if you are a sedentary worker and stroll around.
- Improve your sitting and sleeping posture. Your feet must rest flat on floor and arms on chair’s arm rest or desk. If you work on system, adjust monitor at the level of eye.
- Avoid too much stress. Avoid driving as it may aggravate the problem.
- Change your mattress if it’s very old. You may try flipping it occasionally.
- Lift minimum weight which you can handle. Relax between workout sessions as muscles need time to relax. Excessive weight strains all the body muscles and aggravates the condition.
- If you carry back pack bags then ensure that weight is distributed on both shoulders.