First Aid for Neck Pain

by Christina Lasich, MD Health Professional

When all the weight in the world rests on your shoulders, it is very common to experience neck pain. Instead of trying to power through your day with handfuls of pills and a whole lot of misery, a few simple remedies can help you solve your own neck pain.

Chin Tucks: One of the most common reasons to experience neck pain is from the small joints (facet joints) in the back of the neck become inflamed and painful. The reason these joints are under so much stress is the fact that your chin tends to drift up and away from your chest. As it does so, the back of the neck gets pinched in a vise grip. Look in the mirror and notice what happens to your neck with certain chin positions. Now, tuck your chin towards your chest without flexing the entire neck. That chin tuck maneuver helps to stretch out the back of your neck and relieve pressure off the sensitive joints. This can be done while standing, sitting or even lying in bed. If you feel a "pop," that's okay because these joints make noises when they adjust. As you go through your day, be mindful of your chin's position. Don't let it drift too far towards the sky.

Upper Back Adjustments: Another very common reason to develop neck pain is from upper back stiffness. The area between your shoulder blades can become very stiff from slouching. You don't necessarily need to go to a chiropractor for these adjustments, although that can be helpful. Instead, try duct taping two tennis balls together or place the two balls in a sock. Next, lay your upper spine on them as they rest against the floor. The indentation created by two tennis balls together should be positioned in the middle of your spine right between the shoulder blades. Gently roll the tennis balls up your spine. If the floor is too intense, you can also try standing up against a wall.
This tennis ball trick helps relieve neck pain, especially the pain at the base of the neck.

Pectoralis Stretch: As you get older, the muscles under your breasts called the pectoralis muscles get tighter. As they shorten and tighten, they pull your shoulders forwards which then pulls your head and neck forward. And pretty soon, you look like a turtle peeking out from under his shell. This bad posture is a major cause of neck pain. In order to solve the problem, you must stretch out your chest wall muscles. There are so many ways to stretch the pectoralis muscles. One favorite is to lie on your side and let the outstretched top arm fall behind you as you exhale. Another favorite is to use a doorway with your arms on the frame as you step through the door. Ah, that feels so good to do a couple times per day.

New Pillow: Often times, people wake up with a kink in the neck. If that's you, you probably need to invest in a better pillow. Most people sleep on their sides and use pillows that are too thin to support the head, neck and shoulder. When the pillow is too thin, the head has the reach for the pillow and the neck gets stuck in an awkward position all through the night. The best pillows on the market are made by Tempur-Pedic. If you sleep on your stomach, you'll need to change that habit because it's a terrible position for the neck. Sleep posture affects the way your neck feels during the day.

Hot and Cold: Most of the time people recommend cold ice for the first 24 hours following an injury; however, if your neck is starting to act up, heat can be very helpful even in the early stages. The neck muscles are notorious for spasms. Heat helps these muscles relax by improving their blood supply which gets choked off by muscle spasms. Especially in the winter months, keeping the neck warm and cozy helps to relieve a great deal of neck pain. You could even consider wearing a scarf to keep the neck muscles warm.

Good care at the onset of neck pain helps to aid a speedy recovery. If your neck pain is not improving despite your best efforts, you should consider seeing a professional. If you are experiencing abnormal sensations or weakness into the arm and hand, then you should definitely see a professional sooner rather than later.
Seeking additional advice when the time is right is also part of a good first aid plan for neck pain. Sometimes that additional advice can also help prevent the next episode of neck pain too. In fact, some of the suggestions for preventing neck pain can also help those who currently have neck pain because ultimately good care is rooted in prevention.

Christina Lasich, MD
Meet Our Writer
Christina Lasich, MD

Christina Lasich, M.D., wrote about chronic pain and osteoarthritis for HealthCentral. She is physiatrist in Grass Valley, California. She specializes in pain management and spine rehabilitation.