Neck pain is one of the most common pain complaints and is potentially one of the most limiting. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons explains, “Because it is less protected than the rest of the spine, the neck can be vulnerable to injury and disorders that produce pain and restrict motion.” Neck injuries can range from whiplash from sports and car injuries, to overextending or strain caused by the position of your computer monitor, to pain caused by an awkward position due to bad posture. While most neck pain does not need surgery or other such treatment, it can be very painful during the healing process. In addition, because the neck is so mobile, everyday motion may delay healing.
Anti-inflammatory drugs. Over-the-counter NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen) are generally very effective in alleviating mild to moderate pain. These can be especially helpful if the pain was caused by a mechanical injury, which may result in mild inflammation. Even minor swelling in the neck can be quite painful because of the proximity to major nerves. In severe cases, drugs may be injected directly into the site of the injury.
Exercises. Stretching exercises can help build up the neck muscles, which in turn helps take the stress off of individual vertebrae and intervertebral discs. Some injuries directly impinge the spinal nerve, and stretches may be very beneficial if there are no fractures or other damage to the involved structures.
Traction. Basically, traction is a way to effect the same type of change that stretches do, only stretches do it over time while traction does it immediately. It is very important to use traction only under the close supervision of a qualified medical profession in order to reduce the risk of applying too much pressure and further damaging the neck.
Immobilization. Minor neck injuries may benefit from short periods of bed rest, reclining periodically throughout the day or otherwise taking the stress off of the neck and ceasing movement. In moderate to severe neck injuries, especially those that involve fractures or danger to the spinal nerve, braces that completely immobilize the neck throughout the day may be necessary.
Heat and cold. Alternating hot and cold packs on the pained area may give relief. This is a great option if you’re able to spend a lot of your recovery time at home, but can also be very effective neck pain relief in the evenings before bed in order to allow a more comfortable and restful sleep.