Most people will experience minor neck pain or stiffness at some point in their lives. In fact, it is estimated that about 1 in 3 people are affected by neck pain at least once a year. This is often the result of strain from poor posture or injuries that push the neck muscles outside the normal range of motion.
Neck pain is generally not a serious condition and can go away with minimal care. But it can still be uncomfortable and limit your ability to accomplish day-to-day activities. Fortunately, there are ways to get neck pain relief.
Causes and Symptoms of Neck Pain
The neck is particularly vulnerable to injury. Even simple movements like sitting up too quickly can strain the muscles around your neck.
Neck pain can also occur as a result of poor posture or excessive straining during exercise. Certain sleep habits, such as sleeping on your stomach, can also contribute to neck pain, as can sleeping on overstuffed or unsupportive bedding. Sometimes, neck pain is caused by a sudden injury from a fall, car accident, or contact during sports.
Neck pain symptoms can range from muscle tightness and spasms to headaches or a decreased ability to move your head. These types of symptoms may make it difficult for you to fall asleep, stay asleep, or go about your daily activities without experiencing pain.
In some cases, neck pain can be a symptom of a serious health condition, including:
- Heart attack
- Herniated discs
Seek medical care immediately if you are experiencing:
- Neck pain for more than a week
- Severe neck pain from an injury
- Neck pain accompanied by other symptoms of a serious health condition
Treatments for Neck Pain
Mild to moderate neck pain or stiffness generally will go away on its own with sufficient rest. But you may want to consider adding more options to your treatment toolkit, including at-home treatments and over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers.
At-Home Treatments and Activities
There are many at-home treatment options to consider when treating mild to moderate neck pain, including:
- Gentle Stretching and Exercise – once the worst of your pain has subsided, activities like walking and yoga can promote blood flow through the area, which is important for healing. Your doctor or a physical therapist can also provide you with stretching and exercise recommendations.
- Alternating Cold and Heat Therapy – you can reduce inflammation by applying cold, such as an ice pack, for up to 15 minutes several times a day. Or alternate the cold treatment with heat by taking a warm shower or using a heating pad.
- Adjusting Your Sleep Routine – making small changes to your sleep routine can also help alleviate neck pain. If you usually sleep on your stomach, try sleeping on your side or back. If you sleep with large, fluffy pillows, try sleeping on a flatter pillow instead.
You may also look into getting a massage by a trained practitioner to help loosen and stretch your neck and back muscles or making an appointment with a licensed chiropractor. However, if your pain worsens or lasts longer than a week, it is best to speak with your doctor.
Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers can provide temporary relief from minor aches and pains caused by muscle aches in the neck.
OTC pain relievers come in many forms. Some are taken orally in pill, capsule, or liquid form. These include medicines containing acetaminophen, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen, magnesium salicylate, and naproxen sodium. Our Pain Reliever Assessment will help you identify personal risk factors that you can discuss with your healthcare professional to find the right oral OTC pain reliever for you.
There are also OTC topical pain relievers that are applied to the skin, which can be used to treat minor aches and pains that occur in the neck. Common active ingredients for these medicines include menthol, methyl salicylate, capsaicin, camphor, and lidocaine.
When taking OTC pain relievers, it is important to understand that each medicine has potential side effects and interactions with other drugs. Always read the Drug Facts label on the medicine’s bottle or packaging to determine if you have any risk factors related to the medicine’s active ingredients.
OTC medicines can provide safe and effective relief for mild to moderate pain. They aren’t meant to treat chronic pain conditions on a consistent or long-term basis, unless directed by your healthcare professional.
Complete our Pain Reliever Assessment to learn how your personal risk factors can influence which OTC pain relievers you should use.
Find out which oral over-the-counter pain relievers are right for you.
Complete our Pain Reliever Assessment to learn how your personal risk factors can influence which OTC pain relievers you should use.Take the Assessment
When to Talk to a Healthcare Professional
Neck pain often heals on its own. But if your neck does not feel better after a few days of self-care, or if the pain gets worse, consider seeing a healthcare professional.
Talk to your doctor or other healthcare professional if you experience:
- Pain that gets worse or lasts several weeks
- Numbness, weakness, or tingling
- Changes in bowel or bladder function
- Difficulty swallowing
- A lump in your neck
If you have questions about which OTC pain reliever to take, talk with a healthcare professional about which product is right for you. During your appointment, be sure to mention any health conditions you have and note the dosage of all medicines and dietary supplements that you are currently taking.
A healthcare professional can also recommend additional measures to take if you are not obtaining the desired results from at-home or over-the-counter treatments.
Learn More About Pain Management
There is a lot to consider when it comes managing your pain. Understanding which treatments work best for you is important.
Take our Pain Reliever Assessment to learn about your personal risk factors and which oral OTC pain reliever is right for you.
Read our Expert Advice articles to learn how to use OTC medicines safely and effectively.