How to relieve neck pain

Purple with spine

You know the feeling. You get out of bed, turn your head, and pain shoots from your neck down into your back!

Some knot in your neck, upper back or shoulders may have formed while you were sleeping. It’s a nuisance, but one that can affect your entire day if you don’t get rid of it. The techniques below are recommended for relieving some of that tension, but keep in mind the neck is a sensitive part of the body. Don’t perform any of these remedies without first consulting a doctor and confirming your sore neck is nothing more than a crick from sleeping.

Here are some tried and true suggestions for feeling like a million bucks:

How to Relieve Neck Pain: 3 Quick Fixes for a Stiff Neck

1. The first one is obvious: Rub it and stretch it.

But you gotta do it the right way. Like this:

Stiff neck

  • Find the sore spot
  • Push the knot with your fingers, a tennis ball, or the corner of your doorway.
  • Rub the knot up all the way into your neck and down into your lower back. Go further along the muscle than you think, or go further than where your back is sore. The knot may be unwound deep into your lower back and hips, even.
  • While you rub it, turn your head in the direction opposite of the offending cramp. Touch your chin to your armpit. Basically, stretch the muscle as you rub it.
  • Nod your head up and down by bringing your chin to your chest and then looking towards the ceiling. If it pains more stop the exercise.
  • Nod your head from side to side. tilt your head towards the left side and right side to stretch your neck muscles.
  • Turn your head slowly from left side to right side and vice versa for few minutes.
  • Grasp your neck with your thumb on one side and your fingers on the other.
  • Knead your neck by gently squeezing for 1 – 2 minutes.

Apply heat and cold

But cold first. Here’s why: Heat may compress and tighten muscles, which could make it worse if you don’t first apply cold. Cold relieves neck pain by reducing lactic acid buildup. It also numbs the pain and helps against inflammation. After you chill out the knot in your neck or upper back, apply heat to increase blood circulation. Here’s a method from

  • Fill a plastic bag with ice/frozen peas/cold pack and wrap it in a towel.
  • Apply to the neck, between the shoulders, or at the base of the head for 20 minutes.
  • Apply a hot application, such as a hot shower or bath, a heating pad, hot water bottle, or hot towel, for 20 minutes.
  • Repeat this for thrice a day until you get complete relief from the stiff neck.Note: you can use artificial cold pack or bag of frozen peas.

3. Homeopathic herbs and oils

Herbs and oils

There are lots of homeopathic remedies, acupuncture, reflexology, and other techniques to help. Here are some specific tips:

  • Menthol feels amazing on sore muscles. It has a cooling effect that’s perfect to relieve neck pain.
  • Camphor reduces swelling and increases blood circulation, warming the application area.
  • Capsaicin has anti-inflammatory properties that relieve pain by gently numbing the nerve endings in the application area.
  • Turmeric supports healthy inflammation (but take it orally with black pepper to absorb its nutrients).
  • Peppermint oil. Mix it with coconut oil and beeswax, warm it up and apply it to your neck.

Better sleep

Sleep better! Sleep on your back or the side. Usually, neck pain comes from sleeping on your stomach and being forced to sleep at a weird angle. Side sleeping is better, but can still create some problems. So, try to sleep on your back.

Sleep with a small pillow. Large pillows can create awkward angles for your neck, spine, and shoulder, which causes tightness.

Sit better

Sit betterIf you work long hours on a desk, you might be creating problems for your posture, back, and neck. Here are some tips:

  • Keep your feet on the floor
  • Keep your back straight
  • Get a nice seat cushion
  • Be aligned with your screen
  • Find time to stand and move
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When you’re looking at how to relieve neck and shoulder pain, you’ll find that stress can play a huge part in muscle tightness. Relax, meditate, exercise, and find healthy ways to relieve your stress!

How to Reduce Neck and Back Pain

Your pain might be from a previous injury, arthritis, bad posture or another cause. However, there are things that you can do to lessen the pain or, in some cases, eliminate it completely. Here are five things that will improve your physical comfort.

  1. Avoid Injury – This one is obvious, but it is a common cause of neck and back pain. Often people get in a hurry and fail to follow the common-sense rules to protect themselves from injury. If you don’t know how to lift properly, for example, you run the risk of straining your back and neck. Our experts are trained to show you how you can do your work without compromising your health.
  2. Improve Your Posture – Growing up, most kids have heard the words “stand up straight” more than once. It’s not just cosmetic. Correct posture can help position your body so it functions better throughout the day. Rather than stiffly throwing your shoulders back to achieve this, our team will show you how to align naturally for best results. For example, one practice would be to imagine a string at the top of your head pulling you gently upward, towards the sky. If you have a desk job, be sure to take a break every half hour and stand. Stretch those muscles or take a short walk throughout the day. Incorporate variety into your work posture by using a standing desk or changing positions.
  3. Rest and Exercise – Non-stop work can wear you down. It’s crucial to get adequate sleep every night to let your mind and body recover and rejuvenate so you’re ready for the next day. If you don’t get enough sleep it can affect your pain tolerance, making a bad situation worse. Sleep deprivation sets you up for increased stress and weakens your immune system. Daily exercise, such as walking for 30 minutes, will improve your strength, heart health and flexibility.
  4. Eat Healthy – What you consume fuels your day and if you are eating fried or processed foods, you are increasing inflammation in your body. This causes pain and dehydration, but the cure is not complicated. Make sure you eat fruits, vegetables and lean protein every day and drink plenty of water. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink that water, keep a glass with you as you work and take a bottle of water with you when you are active. Being hydrated eases many symptoms and helps your body function efficiently.
  5. Get Professional Input – While these tips are good general advice, everyone is unique. It is wise to consult with a professional who knows how to spot problem areas and can give you personal solutions for your specific issues. The goal is to restore your health, improve your movement, strengthen your muscles and give you the guidelines to maintain a higher level of pain-free function. Our physical therapists are educated medical experts who can provide the knowledge and advice you need to achieve your goals.

Emphasize the Motions Your Neck Needs

Spine and neck stretchWe need to move our head in a multitude of directions and angles throughout the day, whether it’s simply sitting at a desk working on the computer and looking all around in everything you need to do, or playing a pick up game of basketball on the weekend.

The straightforward motions of Rotation, Sidebending, Flexion (forward bending), and Extension (backward bending) take your neck through its full ranges and any restrictions there can be quickly felt when you try to go through your normal routines.

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But you also need the ability to combine these motions for proper neck function.

This includes:

  • Rotation and sidebending together when you look up and to the side at something overhead without moving your whole body.
  • Or flexion and rotation as in partially sitting up in bed to turn and glare at your alarm clock going off.

This is why the exercises we’ve shown above highlight different variations of combined motions. They are often neglected, so their practice will give you a good way to restore proper movement and control of your neck.

Just as we iterate in the GMB Method, you want to properly address Strength, Flexibility, and Motor Control in their appropriate intensities and emphases.

Keep Your Body Healthy and Functional

Man pushing off of a rock mid jumpRegular practice of the exercises in this article will help you make sure your neck is resilient and functioning optimally. And if you’ve had stiffness or tension or other minor complaints in the neck, these exercises can be of help in resolving those issues.

The best way to keep your neck–and all your muscles and joints–healthy and functional throughout your life is to keep them moving as much as possible, in the ways that match your goals, limitations, and strengths.

It’s important to put your efforts into things that will help you get closer to your goals. That’s why we put together this handy quiz, to help you figure out the next step in your training journey. Whether or not you do a GMB program, going through this quiz will help you find the right path for you.

What Causes Neck Pain?

woman sitting at computer too long

Neck pain can be caused by a variety of different conditions.

It’s important to have chronic neck pain examined by a doctor so you can get to the root cause of your pain and treat it properly.

Common causes of neck pain include:

  • Neck strain or injury
  • Poor posture or being hunched over your computer
  • Common infections/viruses that cause swollen lymph nodes
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Stress, which can cause you to hold tension in your neck
  • Pinched nerves
  • Degenerative disk disease
  • Sleeping in an uncomfortable position

2) The Proper Pillow

It could be that your sleep habits are causing your neck pain.

Sleeping in an uncomfortable position or on an uncomfortable pillow can quickly throw your neck out of alignment.

The two best sleeping positions for your neck are on your side or on your back, and the type of pillow you use can also contribute to neck pain.

Try these tips to find a better pillow and alleviate neck pain for good:

  • Use a feather pillow or memory foam pillow that easily conforms to the contour of your head.
  • Avoid using too high a stack of pillows, which will inadvertently keep the neck flexed and stiff overnight.
  • If you sleep on your side, keep your spine straight by choosing a pillow that is higher under your neck than your head.

4) Stretching

Use pilates moves like the full body roll up to reduce neck pain.

Sometimes some good old fashioned stretching can help reduce neck pain by breaking up tension.

Relieve tight spots in your neck with some gentle yoga poses that not only diminish pain but open up space in in your head for more oxygen.

Inversions like downward dog get oxygen flowing and can not only alleviate pain but help the body naturally detoxify.

9) Chiropractic Care

If your neck pain isn’t responding to the remedies above, sometimes a professional may be needed.

Chiropractors work by making manual adjustments to your spine; we suggest if you are looking for a chiropractor, to find one through referral.

Because there are so many out there, if you know someone who’s has a chiropractor he/she recommends, a referral is your best bet.

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9 Ways To Treat Neck Pain Naturally

The Source of Neck and Shoulder Pain

It’s important to understand that feeling discomfort in the neck or shoulder doesn’t necessarily mean that the source of pain itself stems from that same region. Neck pain could be caused by a shoulder impingement, and pain in the shoulder could be stemming from the neck. In fact, tension in either area could be sparked by an injury or alignment issue in the back of the pelvis, or even from as low down as the ankles.

This is because the entire back side of the body is connected via a thin webbing of connective tissue (fascia), known as the superficial back line. Running from your forehead — up and over the crown of the head, down the length of the spine and the back of the legs — to the bottom of your feet, this fascial line is responsible for extending the body and keeping you in an upright position.


Yet because this fascia is all connected, a dysfunction anywhere in the body along this line could lead to pain in another area. For example, incorrect pelvic positioning can lead to misalignment in the low back, which can continue up the thoracic spine, affecting the position and stability of the shoulder, and ultimately causing neck pain (1).

The exercises that I am showing you today will improve your neck and shoulder mobility and stability, which should greatly ease pain connected with these regions. However, if your pain persists, or you’re experiencing sharp-shooting pain in the neck, shoulder or arms, we recommend that you consult with a physical therapist or kinesiologist, who can take a look at your body as a whole.

Common Lifestyle Causes of Neck and Shoulder Pain

lifestyle-causes-of-neck-pain.jpgNow let’s assume that your current neck and shoulder pain IS actually caused from restriction or instability in the neck and shoulders themselves. Here are three lifestyle factors that could be contributing to your discomfort:

Tech-Neck (Forward Head Posture)

If you’re anything like the average American you could be spending up to eleven hours each day staring at a screen! (2)

Without ergonomics awareness, staring at a computer, smartphone or television screen for hours each day is leading to forward head posture. This causes the neck extensors to stretch, the neck flexors to weaken, and can load an additional 60 pounds of pressure to the back of the neck. Pain aside, forward head posture can also inhibit breathing capacity, lead to migraines and cause brain fog.

Solution: Keep your neck in neutral alignment throughout the day (3), and take a tech-timeout as often as you can.

Reaching Forward (Rounded Shoulder Posture)

In addition to pulling your neck forward, our chronic use of computers and phones — as well as other lifestyle habits such as driving, cooking, and spin classes — is causing rounded shoulder posture. By living life with your arms primarily in front of you, the chest gets overly tight and the mid and upper back weaken; this instability is a common cause of neck and shoulder pain.

Solution: Skip the chest press for a while and focus on exercises that strengthen the trapezius, rhomboids and latissimus dorsi muscle groups on the back side of the body.

Feeling Stressed

Stress not only causes mental tension, but physical tension as well; as your sympathetic nervous system fires up (getting you ready to fight-or-take-flight), so does your body. The problem is that this physical response likely occurs when you’re sitting at your desk or in your car, so instead of being able to release the energy from your tightly coiled muscles, the pressure in your body remains, which can lead to neck and shoulder pain.

Solution: Reduce stress by practicing deep breathing exercises throughout the day.

Looking for more stretches to reduce pain? Try these:

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