Sort out a stiff neck

Stiff necks are a common complaint for many people and for some people it can be a recurring problem, so it’s good to know how to tackle the issue and keep it at bay.

Watch out for causes of compression

Some common causes for that pain in our neck is the way we sleep, use computers, look at our mobile phones and, of course, an injury.

These can all cause the soft muscles and ligaments in the neck to stiffen up and shorten. The joints become compressed resulting in discomfort, pain and reduction in the normal range of movement in the neck. We spend a lot more time with our heads in a forward bent position for reading, working, cooking etc., so the habits we form build up over time.

Firstly, if the pain is really acute get in touch with your GP or a qualified muscle skeletal therapist. If your symptoms are less severe but are causing tightness, discomfort and/or ongoing low-level pain, you might want to try the following steps to help provide some relief.

Step 1 – Reassess your daily activities

By addressing the causes, you can reduce your long-term chances of getting a stiff neck in the first place. Conversely, if you don’t stop doing the things that are causing the issue, you’re likely to be making the problem worse! The challenge can be that bad habits have built up over time.

A few things that can help and your neck return to a neutral position include:

1.  Avoid oversleeping, especially with too many pillows or pillows folded under your neck; this only helps to maintain the problem
2.  Reset your computer so you’re not looking up or down at the screen but straight ahead
3,  Stop any upper body strengthening exercises as they will compound the issues

Step 2 – Address the inflammation

As stiff muscles get ever more compressed, they become inflamed and that causes the pain. Reduce the inflammation and you’ll relieve the pain. That means loosening tight muscles and creating new habits that help to support and lengthen your neck.

Here are some things you can do yourself:  

1. A daily self-massage to warm up the muscles
> Use your opposite hand to opposite upper shoulder and lift the soft tissues between your psalm and fingers
> Squeeze the muscles each time for a count of ten
> Repeat this action on the other side twice a day until you start to feel a softening of the muscles or reduction in pain

2. Use a soft flexible cool pack
> You can use a bag of frozen peas and place it on the upper shoulder until it feels cold
> Remove it, put it back in the freezer and then warm up the same area using your hand massage (as described earlier)
> Repeat this process three times in morning and evening as far as possible

3. A gentle neck stretch
> Gently stretch the neck forwards and then right to left – but don’t force the movement
> Do this action in two sets of three allowing a break in between each set

We’re all different

Remember – no two neck problems are the same, we all come with our own set of specific circumstances and body types. We all have different styles of walking and postures that can have a straining impact on the neck. So, these protocols are aimed at giving a practical hands-on approach to a problem that may have been giving you pain for many months, if not years.

See how you get on with the approaches outlined here. If the problem persists, treatment from a professional therapist may be the next step to resolving the issue before the problem becomes established.

This self-care health hack is from Superfied expert naturopath Sarah Couchman

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