Neck pain plagues about one-third of all adults in the U.S. Although the causes vary, the symptoms can be anywhere from mildly annoying to severe enough to interfere with daily life. Depending on your specific needs, seeing a chiropractor anywhere from weekly to semi-monthly is your best bet to rid yourself of pain in the long term. But what can you do at home, right now to alleviate your pain? We spoke with several esteemed chiropractors from around the nation for tips and methods to ease your neck pain yourself.
What causes neck pain?
1. Emotional stress
We all hold stress in our bodies, and for many of us, stress and anxiety make their home in our neck and shoulders. We tend to tense up, bringing our neck up to our ears, contracting the muscles. “With repeated stress, people over time have shorter and shorter neck and shoulder muscles,” writes Marlynn Wei M.D., J.D. for Psychology Today. Not only do shortened neck and shoulder muscles not look great, but they cause chronic health issues, like premature joint degeneration, headaches, and inability to sit or stand up straight.
2. Computers, phones, and modern life
Whether you’re hunching over a computer, driving constantly, doing a lot of manual labor, or always on your phone, your poor posture is likely the culprit of your neck pain. “We get poor posture because we sit too much,” says Dr. Dennis Buckley of Health Advantage Physical Medicine in Pasadena, CA. There’s actually a phrase used in the medical world for this kind of strain, called “tech neck.” But what is tech neck exactly and why is it such a (literal) pain?
“Sitting at a computer causes us to be in a flexed posture for most of the day, though
3. Injuries—both old and new
Dr. Buckley says the second most common cause of neck pain for his patients are injuries. From sports injuries to car accidents to even concussions, injuries are the culprit of the most severe neck pain. If left alone, your symptoms can worsen since untreated injuries cause damage to our nerves, muscles, and tissues, guaranteeing lifelong pain.
4. You’re pillowing wrong
“You spend one-third of your life asleep,” says Dr. Buckley. “If you’re not properly supporting your neck, that’s going to cause excess stress.” If your pillow is too high a loft or too stiff a material, your neck will stay flexed overnight in an unnatural position, causing pain and stiffness come morning. Making sure your spine is aligned and supported is of the utmost importance if you don’t want to wake up with a crick in your neck (thank goodness adjustable pillows exist! wink).
How to treat neck pain
1. Stretch it out
If you’re always on the computer, try what Dr. Corder calls the Turtle Stretch. “When I recommend the ‘turtle’ stretch to my patients, I instruct them to stand from a seated position, relax their shoulders, and pull their head back like a turtle pulling its head back into its shell,” she says. “I teach them to hold this position for about 10 seconds and to do it 3 times every 1-2 hours while working at the computer.”
While the Turtle is great for quick relief during your 9-5, daily neck stretches are a must. Dr. Corder recommends easy, gentle stretching, like tilting the head to each side, tucking the chin to the chest, and gentle rolling in a circular motion. “Each stretch should be held for about 10 seconds and repeated 2-3 times,” she says.
2. Apply ice
“Ice reduces inflammation, breaks a spasm, and decreases firing of the nerves,” says Dr. Corder. “So if the neck is inflamed, it’s in a state of spasm, or it’s in pain, ice will work every time.”
But be sure to follow the rules, says Dr. Anissa Jones (aka Dr. Nissa) of Total Fuze in Macon, GA. “Ice for the first 48 hours, then apply heat. Ice for no more than 15 minutes and allow for a 20-minute recovery period before the next application.”
3. Inhale or apply diluted essential oils
To encourage relaxation, Dr. Nissa recommends inhaling a mixture of lavender oil, clary sage, and marjoram diluted in water. “Marjoram relaxes muscle spasms and tension; it’s known for its ability to ease pain and inflammation,” says Dr. Nissa. “A quick recipe is 3 drops marjoram oil, 2 drops lavender oil, and 4 drops clary sage.” Use a diffuser or make your own inhalant by mixing 2 quarts of water with the aforementioned essential oils. Boil the water, cool for 1 minute, add oils, and inhale for 2-5 minutes.
For more targeted relief, Dr. Corder recommends applying an oil mixture directly onto the areas causing you pain. “Peppermint, wintergreen, or lavender essential oils are my most recommended essential oils for neck pain. These oils should first be diluted in a carrier oil before being applied to the skin,” says Dr. Corder. “A drop or two of the chosen oil in a teaspoon of olive or jojoba oil will suffice, then it can gently be rubbed into the skin of the neck.”
4. Try homeopathic medicine
If you’ve been turning to pain relief medicines like ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen, try a more targeted, homeopathic cure. Dr. Corder recommends Arnica montana, Hypericum perforatum, and/or Magnesia phosphorica.
“Arnica montana is great for pain, inflammation, and trauma,” says Dr. Corder. “Hypericum perforatum is a great nerve remedy and will help with sharp, shooting pains. Magnesia phosphorica addresses muscles, so if the muscles of the neck are in spasm, this is a great homeopathic remedy to use.”
As you can see, prevention is key to maintaining long, healthy, properly-functioning muscles. Stretching daily, sitting up straight, and taking hourly breaks from whatever work is putting strain on your neck is the best (and most cost effective!) care. But, hey, nobody’s perfect, and injuries happen, so hopefully these chiropractor-approved, at-home remedies can help you—and your muscles—relax.
Find our more about Dr. Dennis Buckley at www.health-advantage.net
Find out more about Dr. Kristi Corder at drkristicorder.com
Find out more about Dr. Nissa at drnissa.com
Featured image: @laurenkaufman