Woke up with a stiff neck? Here’s what to do next

Waking up with a stiff neck is not really a great way to start your day, here’s what you can do to deal with this problem

Neck-PainGive your neck a gentle stretch

There are a number of neck exercises that can help to relieve the pain of a stiff neck. Shelly Coffman, at 360° Sports Medicine and Spine Therapy in Portland, Oregon, recommends the following to get blood flowing, move inflammation out and let nutrients in: Lie down flat, with a rolled towel or partially-inflated beach ball behind your neck. Rotate your head slowly as if saying “no.” Then nod your head slowly as if saying “yes.” Do two sets each of 20 reps two to three times a day.

Another move: While sitting in a chair, bring one arm across your body toward the opposite hip and hold that hand with your other hand. Keeping your head and body facing forward, bend your ear toward the same shoulder as your hands. Hold for 10-15 seconds. Repeat three to five times, once or twice a day.

Another chair exercise: While sitting in a chair, grasp the bottom of the chair with one hand. Tilt your ear toward the opposite shoulder, using your other hand to gently pull your head down to increase the stretch. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds. Repeat three times.

Apply hot and cold compresses

Applying heat to your stiff neck helps to relax the muscles and bring fresh blood to the sore spot. You can get the heat you need with a heating pad set on low or a warm washcloth. Alternating with a cold compress helps to numb the pain and bring down inflammation. You can alternate between hot and cold for up to 10 minutes at a time of each, several times a day and up to every hour if you’re experiencing a lot of pain. Coffman cautions, however, that if you are feeling a lot of pain—not just stiffness—stick with the ice. Heat when you’re having sharper pain can make pain worse by increasing inflammation.

Break out the meds

Anti-inflammatory drugs, like Advil or Motrin, are quick-acting stiff neck remedies. These over-the-counter drugs work by reducing inflammation, so you can begin to go about your day. Tylenol, while not having the same anti-inflammatory benefits, can also help with pain management. However, all drugs, even over-the-counter drugs, have risks, so be sure to discuss these medications with your pharmacist or doctor first.

Take a soak

A warm Epsom salt bath does double duty as a stiff neck remedy. The warm water from the bath helps to relax and sooth the muscles, while the magnesium and sulphates in the salt help to reduce inflammation and improve blood flow and oxygenation. For best results, add two cups of Epsom salt to a full bath, and avoid using other soaps or bath products.

Walk it out

It may seem counter intuitive, but low-impact exercise, like walking, is a great stiff neck treatment. Exercise helps to circulate oxygen through all the soft tissues — including in the spine — which helps with the healing process. “Just like when you’re sore from exercise — the best thing you can do is to do a little bit of easy exercise,” says Coffman. Be sure to avoid jerking or painful activities though.


Change your sleep habits

To avoid neck pain in the morning, it’s best to sleep on your side or on your back and never on your stomach. Sleeping on your stomach can lead to twisting your head one way or the other for long stretches of time, which can hurt your neck. Additionally, it can cause lower back pain if your stomach sinks into the bed. You may also consider buying a new pillow. When shopping for a pillow, look for one that will support the natural curve of your neck.

You’ve got to work it

Often neck pain is exacerbated by poor posture. And often that poor posture is a result of poor computer positioning at work. Keep your computer at eye level. That means your eyes should be right at the middle of the screen when you’re sitting up nice and straight. And avoid tilting or twisting your head to the side or down when you’re typing away. You want to have your neck, shoulders and hips all facing toward the computer, and everything within a comfortable reach and gaze. Coffman recommends doing a “posture check” for one minute every hour.

Think about being pulled tall like a marionette, with shoulders relaxed and heavy, being pulled toward your back pockets. This gets your spine into a naturally good alignment. “Holding that for a minute every hour is doable, and comfortable,” says Coffman. “Pretty soon, people might find themselves correcting themselves more often because it feels good, and definitely better.”


Phone home (but with caution)

Poor posture with handheld devices can also contribute to stiff neck pain, as most people bend over to look at their phones. You can try lifting your phone up to your gaze, rather than staring down at your lap to check your messages. If you must look down, take frequent breaks so that you’re not bending forward for long stretches. If you make frequent calls on your phone, try putting the phone on speaker or use a headset to avoid cradling the phone between your shoulder and ear.

Drive this way

Focusing intently on driving can make your neck pain worse, especially if you find yourself craning forwards or looking down. You can help the pain by starting with good driving posture. You want your seat at 100 degrees, which is just slightly back from straight. Your headrest should be touching the middle of the back of your head. Your lower back should be flush against the seat.

If your car does not have lumbar support, you can place a small pillow against the seat to provide this support. If your seat tilts down, giving the seat a little downward tilt allows your pelvis to provide better support for your whole body. Lastly, move up your seat so that you don’t have to lean forward to reach the steering wheel.

Once you’re in proper position, you shouldn’t feel too much strain while driving on short drives. But longer drives can still take a toll. Make sure to get out and stretch and walk around a bit to keep your neck limber.

Source: Reader’s Digest