DEAR DOCTOR K:
What treatments — besides drugs or surgery — will help to relieve my neck pain?
Neck pain affects almost everyone at some time. Besides the physical discomfort, neck pain can trigger headaches and cause numbness, tingling or weakness in your arms. You may have trouble sleeping and difficulty turning your head.
If you suffer from constant neck pain, talk to your doctor. Neck pain that is constant, day after day for many months, is unusual and may have more serious causes. Your doctor can check to see if it is resulting from a medical condition such as arthritis.
Most neck pain is intermittent rather than constant, however. Such intermittent pain comes from muscle strains and tension caused by everyday situations like slouching, poor posture or sleeping with your neck twisted.
For intermittent neck pain, try ice and heat therapy. Ice applied right after an acute injury such as a strain helps control immediate pain, stiffness and inflammation. Apply an ice pack for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, several times a day. (If you don’t have an ice pack handy, a bag of frozen vegetables can accomplish the same thing.) If the pain lingers more than 72 hours, switch to hot compresses or a heating pad, or take a warm shower.
Keep neck muscles strong and flexible by stretching them to further relieve soreness. Other treatments include acupuncture and the Alexander technique. Acupuncture uses hair-thin needles to stimulate specific points on the body to trigger processes that relieve pain. The Alexander technique teaches you how to avoid unnecessary muscle tension by improving posture and alignment.
Obesity and stress can also raise your risk. Address those issues though a proper diet, regular exercise and relaxation techniques.
The best treatment for neck pain is prevention. Here are some ways to prevent it:
- When sitting for long periods, avoid slouching or sitting with your head tilted forward. Sit straight, with your lower back supported by a pillow or lumbar support, feet flat on the floor and shoulders relaxed. Stand every 20 minutes and stretch your neck muscles.
- Adjust your computer monitor so the top is at eye level. Use a document holder that holds your work at the same level as the screen.
- Position your car seat to a more upright position that supports your head and lower back. Avoid having to reach for the steering wheel. Your arms should be slightly flexed.
- Circular round foam pillows that wrap around your neck may relieve neck stress by supporting your neck when you sit or sleep.
- When you read in bed, use a wedge-shaped pillow to support your back and keep your neck in a neutral position.
If you think the problem is due to pillows that don’t support your neck at night, consider buying a memory foam pillow that adjusts to provide the needed support. I use one, and I swear by it.