Most neck pain can be treated with nonsurgical methods, with self-care at home and/or with guidance from a medical professional.
Self-Care for Neck Pain
If neck pain is not debilitating and didn’t start as the result of trauma, then often the pain can be treated by oneself. Self-care options for neck pain can include:
Rest. With most neck strains and sprains, going easy for a few days is all that is needed while the muscles and tendons heal on their own. It is important to be careful to avoid strenuous activities or movements that are causing more pain.
Ice and/or heat. Applying ice can work as an anti-inflammatory to reduce swelling and pain. Initially, it’s better to apply ice or cold packs for neck pain because they can temporarily close small blood vessels and prevent swelling from becoming worse. After a couple days, ice or heat can be applied on an alternating basis. Applying continuous heat can cause increased swelling.
Massage. Often employed after applying ice or heat, a massage can soothe muscle tension and spasms, reducing pain.
Better posture. If poor posture is causing the neck pain, then simple changes might be the solution. This could include changing a workstation to become more ergonomically friendly, with a chair, monitor, and keyboard positioned in ways to keep the body, head, and neck more aligned in a natural position; or learning to sleep on the back (instead of the stomach or side) with an ergonomically-friendly pillow and mattress.
Modify lifestyle. If certain activities are found to cause neck pain that keeps coming back, then those activities might need to be limited or avoided. For example, if someone spends a few hours every day with their neck craned over a smartphone while texting friends and checking updates, then that activity should be reduced; and the phone should be held up closer to eye level to keep the neck more upright while texting.
Over-the-counter medications. Many over-the-counter pain relievers are available to either reduce inflammation or hinder pain signals from reaching the brain. However, these drugs must be used with caution. Read the pain reliever’s entire label for directions and warnings, and be careful not to overdose. For example, the active drug in Tylenol is acetaminophen, which is also found in many other common drugs, such as cold and allergy medications.