Neck pain is a common problem – two out of three of us will experience it at some point. It’s not usually serious and most often eases on its own or with simple treatment within a few days.
Neck pain is often caused by a simple muscle strain or tension. Other causes include injuries (for example whiplash) or changes to the bones or joints of the spine.
You will not normally need an X-ray or an MRI scan.
What should I do? There are several ways you can help yourself including:
learning how to relax (particularly your neck muscles)
massaging your neck yourself
using ice/heat packs
checking your posture.
What about pain relief?
Painkillers may help you keep moving, so sensible use of painkillers will help, not harm your neck. However, if you are already taking medication for something else or have other health problems, check with your local pharmacist before taking painkillers. Always follow the instructions on the packet.
Initially it may be helpful to use a covered icepack to ease your pain – never apply ice directly onto your skin. Alternatively heat can be soothing, so a covered hot water bottle may also be used. You should not use heat /ice for more than 15 minutes, three to four times a day.
What about work, sports?
You will recover faster if you can stay at or get back to work as early as possible. Don’t worry if your neck still hurts; consider doing light tasks at first if this helps you get back to work easier and quicker. Try to stay active and remember to keep moving. Speak to your manager at work about any concerns you may have. You should try to do your normal activities as much as possible and use painkillers as needed. With regard to sports, start with light fitness training, and play when you feel ready.
Everything you need to know about neck pain in an information leaflet, including self-help and exercises.
You should seek further advice if:
the pain doesn’t improve within a few weeks
you have pain, tingling, numbness or weakness in your arms
you suddenly develop stiffness in the neck along with stiffness in both shoulders.
A rare but serious problem affecting the spine is myelopathy. If you are experiencing symptoms of, upper limb / lower limb weakness, loss of dexterity, unsteadiness or disturbance of gait discuss with your GP.