Treatments for Chronic Neck Pain

Neck pain is a common complaint, affecting two out of every three individuals at some point in his or her lifetime. Most cases of neck pain are minor and are the result of poor posture or muscle strain. These cases typically last just a matter of days or weeks, and they will often clear up on their own. Chronic neck pain describes pain in the neck that lasts for more than three months. There are several causes of chronic neck pain, including issues with the muscle, nerves or bones, and pain can range from mild to severe. Common risk factors of chronic neck pain include:

  • Poor posture
  • Muscle tension or strain
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Whiplash
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Prior spinal surgery

There are several ways to help alleviate chronic neck pain, and many of them can be done easily and safely in your own home.

Stretching – Gently tilt your head toward your left shoulder and hold for 20 seconds, and then repeat the stretch on the right side. For a deeper stretch, you can place your hand at the top of your head and apply gentle pressure. Remember to keep movements smooth and gradual. Forceful or jerky movements could damage a muscle or ligament and worsen your injury.

Improving your posture – Poor posture from slumping over a desk or staring down at your phone can place stress on the neck and shoulders. Throughout the day, do frequent posture checks to make sure your ears are in a straight line over your shoulders and your shoulders are aligned over your hips. Propping up a full-length mirror in your office or home can help you easily identify poor posture habits and address them on the spot.

Applying heat or cold – Heat therapy increases the flow of blood and oxygen to relax sore muscles and improve range of motion. Cold therapy helps to dull pain and reduce inflammation. Whether you apply heat or cold is a personal choice, but it should only be applied for 10 to 20 minutes at a time, four to six times per day (Source: American Osteopathic Association).

If at-home treatments do not relieve your chronic neck pain, talk to your doctor about other treatment options. These may include:

  • Physical therapy – A physical therapist can guide you through stretches and exercises to target the cause of your chronic neck pain. Other therapies, such as hot and cold therapy or electrical stimulation, may be used as well.
  • Medications – Depending on the type of neck pain you have, your doctor may recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), acetaminophen, corticosteroid injections, or muscle relaxants.
  • Traction – A traction device uses weights or pulleys to gently stretch the neck and alleviate pain. Traction should only be used under the supervision of a medical professional or physical therapist.
  • Surgery – In some cases, surgery may be necessary to relieve nerve root or spinal cord compression (Source: Mayo Clinic).
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