Nov 9, 2012

Getting Rid of a Stiff Neck

Getting Rid of a Stiff Neck

I woke up with a stiff neck this morning; ick. But after taking certain actions I am nearly pain-free less than 12 hours later. The following is how I relieved this uncomfortable, painful problem, and hopefully this information will be helpful to others. I am a massage therapist and help people everyday who are in pain. Today I was given the mixed blessing to work my professional know-how on myself. I've learned new things, and reinforced the efficacy of others. 

(Please note: I hope this information is helpful to you, but I cannot guarantee results, and please use your common sense in ensuring your own safety and well-being. (If you have other symptoms beyond just mild-moderate neck pain on one side and are concerned, check the National Institute of Health site.))

Stiff Neck Onset & Symptoms 
Stiff Neck
What a pain in the neck! says Lauren.
As in most cases, the onset of my stiff neck began  a couple days ago, but other than slightly reduced range of motion, and vague stiffness on one side, I felt no discomfort. But this morning the monster awoke and unleashed its wrath. Upon opening my eyes, I could feel the classic symptoms of a stiff neck: constant dull pain, focused on one side, and increasing to sudden, exquisite stabs of pain with certain movements. At its worst, a stiff neck hurts despite any movement, and the goal becomes to find the least painful position for your neck.

5 Steps to a Happier Neck
Luckily, there are some quick and easy steps you can take to work through and minimize a stiff neck. But keep in mind
  • There is no silver bullet - you can recover from a stiff, painful neck sooner by taking action right away, but you will likely still feel mild discomfort or reduced range of motion for a couple days before full recovery, and  
  • Different things work for different people - I am a licensed massage therapist and am presenting my viewpoint. You might find completely different resolutions to a stiff neck. Please feel free to comment with your methods.

Ok, you wake up with a painful and stiff neck, what to do? In general, think "Moderate Your Stress, Increase Your Circulation." Keep in mind, by moderating your (sense of) stress, your body will automatically increase circulation. The first four suggestions  should take 30-45 minutes to complete. The fifth suggestion is equally important and is dedicated to whatever you like to do to reduce stress, be it get bodywork, hike or go for a swim, etc. The last 2 'bonus' suggestions are quick and easy to incorporate, and will help your neck feel better, but less directly than the other 5 points.  
  • 1) Therapeutic Exercises (8-12 minutes): move your neck in tiny, gentle, discreet contractions, using your hands to push against. Do the same for shoulders, scrunching them up and rolling them forwards and backwards, slowly and rhythmically. I recommend this video from Dr. Ben Benjamin. *** Note the model in the video does not have a stiff neck. Move slowly, cautiously and push very gently. But DO follow along, it is a very worthwhile eight minutes of your time. *** 
  • 2) Cold pack (10-15 minutes): At first, it might seem more comforting to reach for the hot pack or take a hot shower, but instead use a cold pack. The cold will slow down the muscle spindle - the part of the muscle that causes contractions (and thus spasms). It doesn't have to be icy or numbing. A gel pack wrapped in a towel will feel comforting and provide relief. Please refer to my earlier blog on 'Hydrotherapy Part I' and Hydroptherapy Part II for more information, including on the use of both hot and cold therapy.
  • 3) Conscious Breathing (8-12 minutes): Spend a few minutes focusing on your breath. Breathe into your ribcage and focus on mobilizing your ribs. Several neck and shoulder muscles are attached to your ribs and will benefit from this. Let your lungs gently fill and push your ribcage outward in all directions. Keep your belly soft and allow it to expand gently as well. Begin with expanding your ribcage to the front (4-5 breaths), then to the back (imagine breathing into your spine - 4-5 breaths). If it's hard to feel movement, place a hand where you want the movement to be. Also, imagine you can feel movement where you want it to be. Next, focus on your ribcage expanding sideways (4-5 times). Do not force your breathing, but rather let it grow and increase gently. (Your neck vertebrae are directly connected to your lungs via ligaments). Then relax your focus and breath normally, feeling for the change in your awareness and breathing.
  • 4) Apply Topical analgesic (2-3 minutes) - I like Tiger Balm (available in many grocery stores), Sombra (available online or through practitioners, and Zheng Gu Shui (available online and through practitioners). If you don't like the smell or feel of camphor, Topricin, Traumeel and Arnica gels are also very effective. Give yourself some self-massage for a few minutes but don't overwork your muscles, you might just bruise the already irritated tissue. 
These first four suggestions can be accomplished in about a half hour or forty-five minutes. They should be helpful, if anything hurts, then stop. And though you may be busy, it's better to take action sooner than later. Repeat at end of day and the following morning. The last suggestion is also important, but may not be as easy to squeeze into a full schedule. But if that is the case, then it may be an indication that it is exactly what is most needed. 

Step 5 warrants a post all its own. Check it out here. 


Shaina said...

Kate thank you so much for directing me to your blog! My neck got worse this morning so I looked at this post, followed it, and now my neck is already starting to feel much better. :) Thank you!

Andrea Bailey said...

I needed this post. Classic laptop-user syndrome!