Neck pain is very common and up to two thirds of the population can experience an episode of neck pain at some point. Full recovery occurs in most cases and the usually advice includes keeping the neck mobile and return to a normal, active lifestyle. You can help prevent and treat neck pain by following this advice.
- Sit upright and avoid working with your head bent or turned for long periods of time.
- It is important to maintain the gentle curve of the back of the neck. Avoid letting your head protrude or droop for long periods when reading and performing tasks at work and at home.
- If you use a computer check that your desk height and computer screen are set up appropriately:
- Try to move your neck little and often (refer to the exercises below).
If you wake up with a stiff and painful neck, it could be as a result of a poor sleeping position. To help prevent neck pain, sleep with your neck in a position so that your head is in a straight line with your body (see below).
- Use a pillow that supports the hollow of your neck.
- A firm supporting pillow may be used when lying on your back; a second may be required when lying on your side. Do not sleep with more pillows than necessary.
- You may find it better to use a feather or polyester / hollow-fibre pillow. Feather pillows need to be changed regularly – at least annually. Solid foam pillow can often be too hard.
- A towel rolled to three inches in diameter can be placed in the pillow cover and used to support the hollow of the neck.
- Do not sleep on your stomach as this places strain on the neck.
- It is better to keep your neck active, rather than rest it a lot in a collar.
- Slow stretches are better than making quick movements especially when turning your head. Avoid rolling your head round in a circular motion.
- Avoid lying in the bath or reading in bed for any length of time as this can bend the head and neck forward excessively.
- To drive safely you must be able to turn your head quickly. It is best not to drive until any bad pain or stiffness has settled.
Achieving the correct posture
Pull your chin in as far as possible and then releasing the last 10% of this movement. Try at all times to maintain this correct posture and alignment.
Aim to keep your neck moving as normally as possible. You should not let it stiffen up. Simple exercises can help to restore your range of movement, promote strength, ease stiffness and help get your neck back to normal. As far as possible continue with your normal activities.
Basic neck exercises
Pull your chin in keeping your neck and back in a straight position. Remain looking straight ahead throughout the exercise and do not tip your head backwards or forwards. Hold this position for a few seconds – then relax. Repeat 5 times.
Pull your chin in (as in the first exercise) then tilt your head backwards looking towards the ceiling – maintain this position for a few seconds – then relax. Repeat 5 times.
Pull your chin in (as in previous exercises) and turn your head as far to the right as possible until you feel a gentle stretch. Maintain this position for a few seconds – then relax. Repeat to the left. Repeat 5 times.
Stop these exercises if they make the pain worse and seek advice from a medical professional (i.e. your GP or physiotherapist).