Neck pain is one of the most common pain conditions, second to back pain and tied with headaches. About 15% of U.S. adults report neck discomfort, according to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). However, the condition affects up to 70% of people at some point in their lives, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Females comprise the majority of pain sufferers, accounting for nearly 60% of people with the condition, according to NCHS. Adults aged 45 to 64 are most at risk; although people aged 18 to 44 experience the second highest rates of neck pain. In this post, we’ll be looking at 25 tips for living with neck pain, but we always advise talking to a neck pain doctor for your best bet at finding pain relief.
1. Find the source of your neck pain
Stress, injury, and poor posture are all linked to pain in the neck, however, where you experience pain may point to its cause.
Achy necks most commonly stem from damage in the cervical spine—the gently curving portion of backbone that supports the neck. Potential sources of discomfort include minor fractures, dislocations, or bulging disc syndrome, a condition where the protective discs separating the vertebrae bulge out and cause pain. Other possible causes include injuries, like whiplash from a car accident, or poor positioning while sleeping or working. You may feel this pain in the neck, but also as neck and shoulder pain or neck and back pain.
The location of your pain can also point to lifestyle habits you have that could be contributing to pain in your neck. Unnatural neck positions frequently have a detrimental effect on its health. This is especially true considering the many hours modern workers spend leaning over desks and towards computer screens. This position results in forward flexion and can wreak havoc on a person’s neck and shoulders. Some hobbies may also impact recovery. Avid bike riders, for instance, may experience pain because of neck flexion while riding.
2. Are you suffering from neck and shoulder pain?
Neck and shoulder pain is a common form of neck pain that many people suffer from. It’s so common, in fact, that the Cleveland Clinic has a name for it. E. Kano Mayer, MD, an interventional spine specialist, explains:
“The way the body reports pain is somewhat unreliable. Neck and shoulder pain so commonly overlap that some refer to it as ‘shneck’ pain.”
Pain in neck and shoulder areas can be caused by any number of factors. For example, damage to the rotator cuff, whether through injury or wear-and-tear issues, can lead a person to begin to compensate or use their shoulders differently. This could lead to soreness or pain in other areas, like the neck. MedicineNet.com also reports that most cases of shoulder and neck pain can be traced by to injuries, such as whiplash. Or your neck and shoulder pain may be caused by more serious conditions like cervical myelopathy where the spinal cord becomes compressed or cervical radiculopathy, when bone spurs press on nerves at the ends of bones.
With all of these different causes, it’s important to always talk to a neck pain doctor. They can help you find what condition or lifestyle habits may be causing your neck and shoulder pain.
3. Consider if your neck and shoulder pain is caused by degenerative conditions, such as cervical spondylosis
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that is generally caused by the process of aging. Known as a “wear and tear” condition, osteoarthritis leads to inflammation and pain in the joints of the body, more severe in some areas than others depending on several factors such as weight, activity level, and any previous injuries. The cervical spine (the neck area) can be vulnerable to osteoarthritis and the pain that accompanies it. As the vertebrae age, the spongy disc that provides cushioning between the vertebrae begins to deteriorate. The bones and ligaments start to get thicker and narrow the space of the spinal canal. This results in a condition called cervical spondylosis, which is essentially pain in the neck as a result of osteoarthritis.
If you’re older, it could be that a degenerative condition is leading to your neck and shoulder pain. Another condition commonly associated with this is degenerative disc disease.
4. For mild cases of neck and shoulder pain, try gentle neck pain exercises or yoga for neck pain
If you suffer from a mild case of neck and shoulder pain, consider trying some gentle neck pain exercises. Or, you can try yoga for neck pain.
Yoga TX also provides a 20-minute yoga for neck pain routine you can do if you are suffering from shoulder and neck pain. With all of these exercises, start carefully at first and always talk to your doctor before beginning a workout routine. Always back off if you experience any sharp or shooting pains while practicing these exercises.
5. Are you suffering from neck and back pain?
Just as the neck and shoulder are inextricably linked, so too is the neck and back. And pinpointing the exact cause of neck and back pain that is experienced simultaneously often doesn’t come down to one issue. Rather, as John Hopkins Medicine explains so well, “Even with today’s technology, the exact cause of back and neck pain can be found in few cases. In most cases, back and neck pain may be a symptom of many different causes.”
Some cases of neck and back pain are caused by injuries, strains or sprains, or other trauma. Lifestyle causes may include:
- Degenerative conditions, like degenerative disc disease
- Overuse or injuries caused by repetitive movements
- Obesity, which puts additional weight on the spine
- Muscle tension or strain due to stress
- Lifestyle habits that degrade joint health, such as smoking
“Facet syndrome can occur anywhere in the spine. It develops in the small joints located between each vertebra called facet joints. These joints are in constant motion, providing the spine with both the stability and flexibility needed to walk, run, bend, sit, and twist.”
6. If you’re looking for relief from upper back and neck pain, check out your workspace
Anyone who works in an office or at a computer all day understands that it can cause upper back and neck pain. Everything from your posture in your desk chair to eyestrain from a computer screen can lead to long-term pain problems. Ergonomics is the science of the workplace experience and covers everything from the comfort of a person’s desk to the environmental factors in the office that contribute to stress. The correct placement of your computer, the height of your chair, and lots of other physical factors can help alleviate and even prevent long-term pain from your desk job.
Make sure your feet are resting firmly on the ground in your chair. Your shoulders should be relaxed and your elbows at 90 degree angles to your keyboard. Your head should be back and your monitor should be raised enough so that you are looking directly at it, rather than upwards or downwards. Likewise, if you talk on the phone a lot, use a hands-free set so you’re not kinking your neck to hold your phone.
If you’re at your desk, HealthLine recommends a few easy stretches for neck pain, including this head tilt pose.
7. Are you looking for neck pain and headache relief?
If you’ve experienced headache and neck pain, there’s a good chance the two are related. Most headaches don’t stem from the brain tissue or skull — these tissues don’t have nerve fibers that communicate pain — but rather, are related to input from your scalp’s nerve fibers, which are connected to other parts of your body, including your neck muscles. When a problem in your neck stimulates a nerve that leads to your scalp, it can cause neck pain and headache.
“Tension headaches occur when neck and scalp muscles become tense, or contract. The muscle contractions can be a response to stress, depression, head injury, or anxiety. They may occur at any age, but are most common in adults and older teens.”
Neck pain and headache in this case may be caused by:
- Stress, as tense neck muscles can lead to tension headaches.
- Poor posture, as holding the head and neck in an awkward position for a long time
- Sleeping with inadequate head and neck support
As Health.com reports, neck pain and headache accompanied by a fever may indicate meningitis, a more serious condition that requires immediate medical assistance.
8. Try neck pain and headache exercises for mild cases
If you suffer from severe cases of neck pain and headache, talk to your neck pain doctor. This is especially true if the pain is severe or accompanied by neck stiffness, fever, or sensitivity to light. He or she will be able to determine whether your condition is the result of tension or a more serious issue, such as a problem in the in the spine, shoulder or neck.
For more mild cases of neck pain and headache, you can try this set of three exercises from Madden Physical Therapy.
9. How to find relief from TMJ neck pain
TMJ damage (felt as pain or tightness in the jaw) can often lead to pain in the neck. One pain patient, Katie, explained how debilitating TMJ neck pain can be.
If you suffer from TMJ neck pain, there are some interventional strategies you can use to reduce your pain. The American Academy of Otolaryngology recommends lifestyle interventions like resting the muscles, applying moist heat, and using stress reduction techniques. More advanced treatment may include anti-inflammatory drugs or muscle relaxants.
10. Reduce tension to reduce TMJ neck pain
TMJ neck pain, in particular, is often caused by stress and tension held in the muscles. You can begin to release this tension by practicing a few postural exercises, as explained by BreakingMuscle.com, or this easy sequence of isolated stretches from SmartStretch.com.
11. Figure out if you’re experiencing upper neck pain, lower neck pain, or back of neck pain
Finally, when considering the various aspects of your neck pain, consider where on the neck you’re feeling your pain. Check to see if you’re feeling:
- Upper neck pain
- Lower neck pain
- Pain in right side of neck, or left side of neck
- Back of neck pain
Knowing the exact location of your pain will help your pain doctor find future treatments.
12. Understand the costs of neck pain
Neck pain just doesn’t hurt. People experiencing pain in their necks frequently miss work or work less effectively. A study in the Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation found 32% of neck pain patients suffered productivity losses. Those losses are costly. A study in the journal Population Health Management found each worker with back or neck pain costs his or her employer as much as $8,512 annually, in terms of health benefits and sick days.
Finding relief for your pain is important. These next few tips for living with neck pain cover lifestyle and interventional strategies you can try for relieving your pain.
13. Try at-home remedies for neck pain
MedlinePlus recommends some at-home remedies for pain cases that are mild. Some options include:
- Taking over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen
- Applying heat or ice to the affected area
- Using heat therapy, in the form of hot showers, compresses, or heating pads, to reduce tension in the neck muscles
14. Work on your posture to find relief
We’ve already discussed some postural suggestions for exercises earlier in this post, but it bears repeating. This is true especially since the American Osteopathic Association echoes the same advice:
“If you are not using good posture, it may cause the muscles to stretch, tighten, and trigger increased pain. Whether you are sitting or standing, make sure that your shoulders are in a straight line over your hips, and your ears are in a straight line over your shoulders.”
15. Continue moving your neck to prevent pain
The American College of Rheumatology points out an important point about pain in the neck: don’t keep still for too long. As they note:
“While regular exercise should be discontinued until the neck pain is improved, movement of the neck is encouraged. Gradual movement in all directions of motion of the neck stretches muscles that may be excessively tight.”
Check out the videos earlier in this post, or try one of our favorite stretches for neck pain by Sukie Baxter.
16. Try some yoga for neck pain poses, or other gentle exercises
17. Seek help from a neck pain doctor
You should seek help from a neck pain doctor before trying any course of treatment for chronic pain in the neck. However, there are certain cases that require immediate medical care. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons explains:
“If severe neck pain occurs following an injury (motor vehicle accident, diving accident, or fall), a trained professional, such as a paramedic, should immobilize the patient to avoid the risk of further injury and possible paralysis. Medical care should be sought immediately. Immediate medical care should also be sought when an injury causes pain in the neck that radiates down the arms and legs.”
Any severe neck pain, or pain that is continuous and persistent for more than three months, also requires medical care from a pain doctor.
18. Look into cervical collars or cervical pillows for neck pain
The University of Maryland Medical Center gives an in-depth look into the causes, diagnosis, and treatment for neck pain. Their discussion of cervical collars or cervical pillows for neck pain could be useful for patients as well.
“A cervical collar is often used to provide support and limit motion while an injured neck is healing. It also helps keep the normal alignment. Cervical collars can be soft (made of foam) or hard (made of metal or plastic). Because these collars can restrict the movement of your head, you may need help with eating and other activities. The skin under the collar needs to be checked every day to prevent blisters or sores.”
Always talk to a pain doctor before using a cervical collar, as less movement could actually exacerbate your issue.
19. Try acupuncture for neck pain
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medical practice that involves inserting hair-thin needles into specific points in the body. These points are tied to meridians, or energy channels, in the body. Acupuncturists believe that pain and other conditions are caused by energy blockages in the body. They suggest that this state can be remedied by proper placement of needles.
This high disease burden is worth taking the chance on a treatment that may offer long-term relief of severe neck pain. Finding a qualified acupuncturist is key. Take the time to seek out a qualified, capable practitioner near you. You should also check with your insurance company to see if they will cover part of the cost. Ask your neck doctor for recommendations and a referral if that will help.
20. Read up on the research on acupuncture for neck pain
While this may be difficult for western minds to believe, a new study is confirming that acupuncture, sometimes in combination with posture exercises called the Alexander Technique, is actually able to offer long-term relief of chronic pain in the neck.
The University of York Health Sciences conducted a trial study of 517 patients. The study, called Alexander Technique Lessons and Acupuncture Sessions (ATLAS), was funded by Arthritis Research UK in an effort to help find new treatments for arthritis-related chronic pain. Study participants were divided into three groups. One that received acupuncture, one that learned the Alexander Technique, and one that received standard care for neck pain.
After a year of treatment, those in the acupuncture and Alexander Technique groups found their pain reduced by 32% and 31% respectively. This was in comparison to a 25% reduction in pain for those receiving traditional care. In addition, participants receiving acupuncture and lessons in the Alexander Technique were better able to cope with their pain when it did flare up.
21. Check out radiofrequency ablation for neck pain
Our own pain doctors have gone into detail into how radiofrequency ablation for neck pain works.
22. Try neck pain chiropractic treatment options
Medical intervention and drugs aren’t the only treatments for persistent pain in the neck. If you’ve been feeling the effects of long-term neck problems that not only make you uncomfortable but also affect your quality of life, you may want to consider neck pain chiropractic adjustments.
Chiropractic is a medical specialty based on musculoskeletal adjustments that realign our body’s natural positioning and bring relief for painful conditions caused by misalignments. Treatments can be used for a wide variety of conditions and are very useful for pain in the neck. Many aspects of our daily lives can affect the natural positions of our neck. Simply sitting at a computer for work all day can throw off the balance of our bodies. Chiropractic neck adjustments can readjust and relieve pain.
Chiropractic treatment to help restore normal range of motion and reduce pain in your neck may occur over an extended period of time. Several neck pain chiropractic adjustments may be necessary before you find yourself back to normal. Your neck pain doctor may also recommend ongoing adjustments to prevent any further pain or damage from occurring.
Find more information about neck pain chiropractic treatment options at:
23. Discuss percutaneous discectomy for neck pain with your pain doctor
Herniated discs in the cervical spine are those that have slipped or ruptured, and can often lead to pain in the neck. Fortunately, a minimally invasive procedure known as percutaneous discectomy has been shown to effectively treat the condition. The outpatient technique lasts about an hour and features a relatively quick recovery time.
The word “percutaneous” means through the skin, while “discectomy” means surgical removal of a disc, or a portion of it, that is thought to be causing the pain. Spinal discs are composed of hard, rubbery outsides and jelly-like centers. When discs become herniated, part of the jelly-like center leaks through a crack in the tough exterior. This leakage creates pressure on sensitive areas in the cervical spine, leading to pain.
Studies have shown cervical percutaneous discectomy to be both safe and effective at reducing pain. A study published in the Journal of Spinal Disorders and Techniques found nearly 91% of patients experienced a good outcome during a 12-month follow-up period. Researchers said the procedure offered a safer alternative to more invasive procedures while also requiring less time for recuperation.
The procedure also shows potential for long-term pain reduction. A study published in the journal Pain Practice followed patients who underwent the procedure for two years, and found the positive results endured.
24. Consider if Botox for neck pain might help relieve your pain
Just hearing the word Botox conjures up images of beauty products and wrinkle prevention. However, there is more than a single use for this injectable treatment. Medical professionals have successfully used Botox for pain in the neck, as SpineUniverse explains in their post “Is The Fountain of Youth the Answer to Unbearable Pain?”
Even as it was being used to restore a youthful appearance, Botox was also being studied as a potential treatment for debilitating migraine headaches. Botulinum toxin type A is a neurotoxin that, when injected into the muscles, blocks the nerve signals that cause muscle tightening. This allows for these muscles to relax naturally and can help alleviate pain, including head and neck pain.
Botox was approved by the FDA back in 2010 specifically to treat chronic migraine pain. Injections are given over the period of about 12 weeks in specific points on the head and neck to can relax the muscles and prevent them from tensing and causing pain. Beyond migraines, Botox may be able to be used for tension in the neck due to muscle stiffness as well as other headache conditions such as cluster headaches.
In 2012, the American Society of Anesthesiologists showed that Botox for neck pain could “significantly improve pain and quality of life in people with chronic bilateral posterior neck and shoulder myofascial pain syndrome.”
25. As a last resort, research neck pain surgery
The American Association of Neurological Surgeons goes into more detail about neck surgeries you might want to consider if less invasive methods haven’t worked. SpineUniverse also has an in-depth look at the types of surgeries that can help with pain in the neck.
Working with a trusted neck pain doctor is your first step in finding relief. Contact one of our pain doctors today to discuss the pain treatment options you have.