Tension of the neck and shoulder muscles is the most common cause for acute neck pain. In severe cases this tension can spread out between the shoulder blades or even trigger headache. The result is a stiff neck, which makes each head movement feel like torture.

What are the common causes of acute neck problems?

• Wrong sleeping position at night or cold air from the air conditioning
• Jerky movements
• Incorrect posture while sitting
• Long hours sitting in front of the computer

Who is most at risk from a stiff neck?

Office workers are prone to neck problems due to ill posture and prolonged desk based computing work. This places strain on the neck and back, contributing to an array of musculoskeletal disorders. Increasingly, employers are implementing corporate ergonomic programs to address this; however this is not yet commonplace for the majority of workers.

Individuals suffering from stress (e.g. people working in high pressure jobs) can also experience neck problems. Those who travel often are also at risk, due to a constantly changing sleeping position and the use of potentially uncomfortable pillows.

How can you get rid of a stiff neck?

Keep moving

Don’t make the mistake of not moving your head at all, as movement is critical to recovery. Try to move your head as normally as possible during daily life and avoid compensating with the upper or lower back. Don’t worry if this is a bit painful. As long as the movement is controlled and not jerky, it will not harm the spine.

Stretch the muscles

Stretch the neck muscles several times a day for 3 x 30 seconds. Light shoulder rolling improves blood circulation and helps to loosen up the stiff muscles.

Apply heat & warmth

Heat applications, such as a hot bath / shower or heat packs will also help to reduce muscle tension. You can apply these several times a day for 15-20 minutes. Therapeutic massages are a very good way to resolve the tension and to facilitate head movements.

During the first few days it is advisable to put a scarf around your neck at night and turn off the air conditioning. This will keep the muscles warm and help ease the tension. After 1-2 weeks the pain usually disappears and neck mobility should be restored.

Improve posture

If postural problems are responsible for the neck pain, individuals should take steps to address their seating position. Whether at home or in the workplace, workstation and desk based comfort should be improved.

Seek professional advice

If the neck pain has been caused by a car accident or a fall you should see a doctor to exclude any serious injury.

If you’re suffering from acute neck pain and would like to find out more about the available treatment options, please click here. Alternatively, get in touch with your local PhysioActive clinic to arrange an appointment.


Thanks for reading!

This post has been written by PhysioActive director Denis Mecklenburg B.Sc. – Physiotherapist, Sports Therapist, Golf Therapist.

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