Neck pain affects us all. Do you remember the last time you were rubbing your tight neck muscles after a long day of work? Maybe felt a little stiff looking over your shoulder when driving or changing lanes? Then the next day you wake up to find you cannot move your head. An unrelenting pain occurs with any movement, but is especially bad with moving your head backwards or to either side. A hot shower makes it feel a little better, but the constant pain won't go away.
Your neck is a complex structure of muscles, tendons, bones, and joints. The bones and joints are designed to hold up your head and allow it to look over each shoulder. You may not be able to turn like an owl, but your ability to look from side to side is impressive. Your necks ability to look from your left shoulder to 180 degrees to the right is accomplished by 7 cervical vertebrae and their corresponding joints.
Those neck joints are under daily stress and strain from holding up the head. With repeated stress or workload the joints can become injured and inflamed, which triggers pain and muscle spasms. Believe it or not, sometimes sleeping wrong places extra stress on the joints and trigger an injury.
Unfortunately, when you wake up with the sore neck the damage is already done. The best thing you can do is decrease the pain and inflammation. A hot shower can feel great to release the muscle spasm; however, ice is usually your best bet. Ice works to decrease the pain and inflammation. Ice the affected area for 15 minutes, then remove the ice and let the area "rest" for 15 minutes. Repeating this process for several cycles usually provides some relief. People often take ibuprofen or Advil to decrease the neck pain, stiffness, and inflammation.
The next step is to increase pain free range of motion. Light pain free cervical range of motion exercises can be performed to increase your neck motion. These exercises are to be performed with the goal of increasing motion not causing pain. For the first exercise look straight ahead, slowly look toward your left shoulder. Stop before it hurts. Then slowly look toward your right shoulder. Once again, stop before it hurts. Then look toward the left shoulder again. Repeat this process over and over again for 10 repetitions. We call this the "saying no exercise."
The next exercise is the "saying yes exercise." Slowly lower your chin toward your chest, stopping before it hurts. Then slowly tip your head backwards. Repeat this process like you are saying yes 10 times.
Repeating the yes and no exercises increases pain free neck range of motion. The repeated movement blocks the joint pain signals from reaching the brain, which cause the muscles to relax.
If the pain continues, you can seek active treatment in a chiropractic or physical therapy clinic. Therapy involves further deceasing the pain, muscles spasms, and joint inflammation. Types of therapy can involve ice, electric therapy, ultrasound, cold laser, and massage therapy.
The therapies are all designed to get you pain free and back to normal quickly. The treatments can be combined or performed independently. Often people respond within a few treatments. Most times the pain will disappear within a week or two. Repeated bouts of neck pain may suggest the need for more in depth therapy to build strength and endurance of the neck muscles.
For a description and pictures of the exercises please visit Neck Exercises and Neck Stretches Page.