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Back and Neck Pain

Neck Pain

Prevention - Home Treatment - When to Call a Health Professional

Most people occasionally feel pain, stiffness, or a "kink" in the neck. The discomfort is most often caused by tension, strain, or spasm in the neck muscles or inflammation of the neck joints. Neck pain may spread to the shoulders, upper back, or upper arms, and it may also cause headaches. Pain may limit neck movement. This usually affects one side of the neck more than the other.

Other causes of neck pain include:


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Strengthen and protect your neck by doing neck exercises once a day. See Neck Exercises You do not need to do every exercise. Stick with the ones that help you the most. Do each exercise slowly. Stop any exercise that increases pain. Start by doing the exercises twice a day.. If stress may be the cause of your neck pain, practise the progressive muscle relaxation exercises on See Progressive Muscle Relaxation.

If your pain is worse at the end of the day , evaluate your posture and body mechanics during the day.

  • Sit straight in your chair with your low back supported. Avoid sitting for long periods without getting up or changing positions. Take mini-breaks several times each hour to stretch your neck muscles.

  • If you work at a computer, adjust the monitor so that the top of the screen is at eye level. Use a document holder that puts the copy at the same level as the screen.

  • If you use the telephone a lot, consider using a headset or speakerphone.

If your neck stiffness is worse in the morning , you may need better neck support when you sleep.

  • Try rolling a towel and wrapping it around your neck. Pin it for good support.

  • You may need a firmer mattress or a special neck support pillow. Look for a pillow that supports your neck comfortably when you lie on your back and on your side (try before buying). Avoid pillows that force your head forward when you are on your back.

  • Morning neck pain may also be the result of activities done the day before.

Home Treatment

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Much of the Home Treatment for back pain is also helpful for neck pain. See Home Treatment.

When to Call a Health Professional

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  • If a stiff neck occurs with headache and fever, see "Encephalitis and Meningitis" on See Encephalitis and Meningitis.

  • If pain extends or shoots down one arm, or you have numbness or tingling in your hands.

  • If you develop new weakness in your arms or legs.

  • If a blow or injury to your neck (whiplash) is causing new pain.

  • If you are unable to manage your pain with Home Treatment.

  • If the pain has lasted 2 weeks or longer without improvement despite Home Treatment.

    Neck Exercises You do not need to do every exercise. Stick with the ones that help you the most. Do each exercise slowly. Stop any exercise that increases pain. Start by doing the exercises twice a day.

    Dorsal glide: Sit or stand tall, looking straight ahead (a "palace guard" posture). Slowly tuck your chin as you glide your head backwards over your body. Hold for a count of 5; then relax. Repeat 6 to 10 times. This stretches the back of the neck. If you feel pain, do not glide so far back. You may find this exercise easier to do while lying on your back with ice on your neck.

    Chest and shoulder stretch: Sit or stand tall and glide your head backward as in the dorsal glide exercise. Raise both arms so that your hands are next to your ears. As you exhale, lower your elbows down and back. Feel your shoulder blades slide down and together. Hold for a few seconds. Relax and repeat 6 to 10 times.

    Shoulder lifts: Lie face down with your arms beside your body. Lift your shoulders straight up from the floor as high as you can without pain. Keep your chin down and your eyes facing the floor. Keep your torso and hips pressed to the floor. Repeat 6 to 10 times.

    Hands on head: Move your head backward, forward, and side to side against gentle pressure from your hands, holding each position for several seconds. Repeat 6 to 10 times.


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