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How Can I Relieve a Stiff Neck?

Using a neck pillow when traveling reduces the likelihood of a stiff neck.
An ice pack, which can help relieve pain from a stiff neck.
Hot water bottles are often used to soothe sore and stiff muscles of the neck.
A scarf protects the neck in cold weather.
The position a person sleeps in can potentially cause neck stiffness.
Petroleum jelly can be used in salves for stiff muscles.
A massage may help to relieve a stiff neck.
Performing simple yoga exercises can help remove tension from the neck.
Thyme may help relieve a stiff neck.
Aspirin may be helpful in treating a stiff neck.
The whiplash of a car accident can cause a stiff neck.
A change in sitting posture can help reduce neck pain.
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  • Originally Written By: Niki Foster
  • Revised By: Emma Lloyd
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 21 October 2014
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Most people experience a stiff neck every now and then, and the condition is typically nothing to worry about. In most cases, medical care is not required, and there are many ways to soothe the discomfort and help the neck recover. Stiffness is most often caused by stress or injury to the muscles in the area, so treatment usually involves relaxing the muscles and taking pressure off the neck to help them heal.

Rest and Support the Neck

One way to relieve a stiff neck is to take some of the pressure off the muscles. You can wear a soft cervical collar, available where medical supplies are sold, or you can make a similar type of support at home. Place a rolled up towel in your shirt collar or along your collar-line, and pin the ends snug around your neck. If you can, sleep on your back with a pillow supporting the curve of your spine. If you’re unable to sleep this way, try sleeping on your side with a firm pillow for your head, and slip a small pillow between your knees to help support your spine.

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You'll need to rest the neck while it's recovering as well. This means that any activities that could further strain the muscles and ligaments should be avoided. Don't go running or jogging, and avoid other sports that create a lot of head movement. Even sports like golf can cause you to twist and strain, and it's best to take a break from them until you're fully healed. Try not to lift anything heavy — whether weights or even just items around the house — that can cause you to tighten those muscles.

Apply Ice and Heat

If the neck pain is caused by an injury, applying an ice pack wrapped in a towel can help reduce the inflammation and aid healing. Apply an ice pack for 15 minutes at a time, with a rest period of 15 minutes in between each application. After the initial 24-hour period, it’s generally better to apply heat rather than ice. A warm shower, a hot water bottle, or a compress, made by soaking a towel in hot water, can be used to aid relaxation.

Massage and Stretches

Relaxing the muscles with a massage or stretches can help relieve the stiffness as well, but both should be done only very gently. A massage should be very smooth and light, focusing more on relaxation than kneading out the tension. Move the neck slowly up and down and from side to side to stretch the muscles. Putting extra stress on the tissues in the neck can make the problem worse, so don't move too quickly or do anything that causes additional pain.

Natural Treatments

Natural medicines can be a great aid to relax stiff muscles. Try adding aromatherapy herbs or oils, like peppermint, thyme, marigold, or yarrow, to a salve or massage oil. To make therapeutic massage oil, add a few drops of aromatherapy oil to a tablespoon (14.78 ml) of a carrier oil such as olive, avocado, or grapeseed. To make a salve for stiff muscles, simmer a couple of tablespoons (grams) of a dried herb with a small amount of petroleum jelly for about 15 minutes. Once the salve is cool, rub a small amount on the stiff muscles.

Pain Relief Medications

The pain of a stiff neck often does not go away immediately after applying these treatments, so over-the-counter painkillers such as aspirin or ibuprofen can be useful. Taken as directed, pain medication should help reduce pain and swelling in the muscles. Just as important, they’ll make relaxation easier, as this can be difficult to do when you are in pain. Muscle tension can make the pain worse and prolong its duration, so allowing yourself to relax will help them heal, too.

Stiff Neck Prevention

If you find yourself suffering from a stiff neck regularly, take a look at your daily habits and how you can improve them. Stress, poor posture, and exposure to drafts can all cause tension and pain in the neck. Take time out of every day to relax or do something you enjoy, even if only for a few minutes. Stay away from drafts or wear a scarf in chilly weather so that you don't tense up. Make sure the shocks in your car are working properly to keep your neck from being jolted when you drive. Your neck and spine need to be well supported while you sleep, as well, which can not only help relieve stiffness, but may aid in preventing it in the first place.

Poor posture can be improved with regular stretching and strength exercises. You can perform many of these at your desk, on the bus, or while watching television for just a few minutes out of each hour during the day. If you make an effort to hold your neck comfortably, it will eventually become second nature. Keep your work, such as your computer monitor, at a height that allows you to hold your head in a natural, comfortable position. Avoid activities that compress your neck, such as holding a phone between your head and shoulder.

When to Get Professional Help

In some cases, neck stiffness is a symptom of another illness, or it might indicate the presence of a severe injury. If your neck pain doesn't improve within a week, see a medical professional to determine if there is anything more serious causing the pain. Lack of improvement isn't necessarily a cause for alarm, but if the pain and stiffness isn't going away, there is probably an underlying cause that might need more specialized treatment.

If you've been in a car accident or suffered any type of collision, you could have whiplash or damage to the vertebrae in the neck. You may need an X-ray or other imaging tests to rule out a serious injury. Unless there is major damage, however, a cervical collar and rest are usually prescribed to treat the problem.

Pain that gets worse, spreads, or is accompanied by other symptoms could be signs of a serious problem, so seek medical attention immediately. Symptoms such as headache, drowsiness, fever, numbness, or confusion, along with neck stiffness, can be symptoms of an illness such as meningitis. Neck and arm pain can also be a sign of a heart attack, especially when accompanied by shortness of breath, nausea, and sweating. These conditions require immediate emergency medical help.

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Discuss this Article

anon271491
Post 21

I am only 10 years old! I can't turn my head to the left, and it hurts a lot when I try to! I can't practice my piano just because I have a stiff neck, and today I have to go to the city to watch 'Vivid Sydney' which is only a few days a year!

If I walk on the street like this, everyone will stare at me and think that I have those big problems with my body structure! No! I hate this!

anon249255
Post 20

If you can turn your head to the other side and it stays on one side, which I have, you have tornacalis.

anon169211
Post 18

I feel you anon70450. I'm only 13 and I'm home alone. I can't look to my left without turning my whole body! as I am writing this my head is sideways! Grrrr!

@obsessedwithloopy: I don't have ten weeks!

anon144107
Post 17

i can't turn my head left or right. Please help me. what is the best medicine for a stiff neck. it's really hard to work having this kind of pain.

anon135632
Post 16

I had a stiff neck for five years and went to two chiropractors and two physical therapists. None of them provided any permanent help. I found out about trigger point therapy on the web and my neck problem was fixed in two weeks.

Your neck pain may come from a trigger point in your back. I used a lacrosse ball and rolled it against a wall and my back. I did this three times per day for a week and my pain has been gone for a few years. If my neck flares up I just treat it with the ball massage. There is a book by Clare Davies that discusses Trigger point therapy in detail. Good luck.

anon127251
Post 14

I can't turn my head to the left. This is truly terrible!

anon123167
Post 12

i have so many things to do and i can't turn my head to the left. it's horrible.

anon110705
Post 11

i can't turn my head to the left. it's awful.

anon101401
Post 9

I can't turn my head to the right. i hate it.

anon93556
Post 8

How do i help from sleeping in an uncomfortable position? i can't turn left or right, just straight. it hurts so bad!

anon75778
Post 7

What are chiropractic adjustments? what kind of question is that?

anon73852
Post 6

i can't turn my head left! it hurts really bad! i hate it!

anon72845
Post 5

chiropractic adjustments are done to slowly realign your spine and they do help a lot with many of the body's aliments. i went to a chiro for two years and it helped with nerve pain i had from having an epidural when i delivered my son. it

feels like you're popping your knuckles. it is painless. but can be costly.

anon70351
Post 4

what are chiropractic adjustments? I can't turn my head to the right. grrr

anon70350
Post 3

i'm only 13 yrs. old. I don't know what to do! I hate it.

anon46373
Post 2

You should try a natural approach. Chiropractic adjustments help to relieve neck pain and stiffness.

obsessedwithloopy
Post 1

I have been looking into ways in helping my neck feel less stiff. Here is a tip that I came upon. Apparently strengthening arm, neck and shoulder muscles will help with stiff neck.

So, training with dumbbells, and lifting arms straight at your side, will help tone the muscles and with time soothe the pain and stiffness. Doing this regularly after ten weeks showed marked improvement.

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