Young Man Having Pain In His Neck

Ouch! What is that pain in your neck? Whether that sore, tight feeling is new or recurring, you’ll want to know the best remedies for a stiff neck.

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What Causes a Stiff Neck?

Most often, neck pain results from strained muscles in the neck and upper shoulder area. These muscles are usually weakened by poor posture over time. “Neck pain and stiffness are very common in people who spend the day working at a computer. If you have neck stiffness or pain, try changing the position of your desk, chair, and computer screen. Remember to take frequent breaks to stretch and walk around. Many people benefit from using a standing desk at work,” says Shane Eikenberry, MD, a primary care doctor at Greater Pittsburgh Medical Associates–UPMC.

Other causes of neck stiffness and pain include arthritis, a bulging disc, and, occasionally, an injury or a disease. A visit to your doctor can determine what’s causing your neck stiffness or pain.

Don’t try to self-diagnose or administer at-home stiff neck remedies if you:

  • Experience tingling or loss of strength or feeling in an arm or a hand
  • Have soreness resulting from a blow or a fall
  • Have pain that increases when you lie down or is severe enough to interrupt normal sleep
  • Can’t find a comfortable position
  • Lose urinary or bowel control
  • Lose coordination or the ability to walk unassisted
  • Have lump or swollen gland(s) together with neck discomfort
  • Experience stiffness along with any other symptoms of a heart attack

Any combination of these symptoms with a sore, tight neck should be taken seriously and reported to your doctor promptly.

Prevention Is the Best Remedy for a Stiff Neck

Before discussing ways to relieve a stiff or sore neck, let’s cover prevention tactics to improve your future comfort.

  • Start strong.  Your doctor can recommend a physical therapist, who can discuss which exercises and muscle stretches to add to your fitness routine. Strengthening your core, in particular, can help compensate for occasional slouching.
  • Learn and practice good posture.  Hold your head so that your ears are above your shoulders and your shoulders are aligned with your hips. Keep your chin and eyes up throughout the day. You may need to adjust your work station.
  • Take movement breaks.  Even good posture needs variation. Make “movement breaks” a priority to avoid staying in the same position all day.
  • Adopt healthy sleep alignment.  Choose a pillow based on your usual sleeping position. Spine alignment and support is the goal when testing the options.
  • Manage stress.  Learn to relax regularly during your day, especially when facing common stressors.

    Effective Remedies for a Stiff Neck

    Unfortunately, even if you’ve done what you can to prevent a stiff neck, everyone still experiences occasional stiffness. The best remedy for a stiff neck will depend on your situation, so if one suggestion doesn’t provide relief, try a combination of the following techniques.

  • Take a break from your usual strength training or cardio exercises.
  • Apply a heating pad for 15 minutes on low every couple of hours.
  • Consider making an appointment with your physical therapist for manual therapy.
  • Ask your doctor about taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicine.
  • If you practice yoga, try some poses that target those tight neck muscles. The National Institutes of Health reports that isometric, Pilates, and yoga exercises produce “favorable effects on pain and functional scores.”
  • Relax. Practice calming exercises to reduce stress as you recuperate.
  • Be patient; the symptoms of a stiff neck may last for a few days. If these remedies are not effective, it’s time to call your doctor.

    For more information on keeping your neck and spine strong and healthy, visit UPMC Sports Medicine or call 1-855-937-7678 to make an appointment.

    About Primary Care

    The relationship with a patient and their primary care doctor can be extremely valuable, and that’s what you get with UPMC Primary Care. When you work with a primary care physician (PCP), you develop a lasting relationship. Your doctor will get to know you and your history and can plan your treatments accordingly. Our PCPs offer a variety of services, including preventive care and treatment for both urgent and chronic conditions. With dozens of UPMC Primary Care locations across our network of care, you can find a PCP close to you. Schedule an appointment today.