Dr. Tariq Jagnarine
Family Medicine, Endocrinology/ Diabetes

While neck pain can often be traced to injury or specific health conditions, work and home routines can be culprits too. Most of the time, neck pain is temporary, but it can become chronic without proper care. A stiff neck can be painful and can interfere with our daily activities. Symptoms may even make it hard to get a good night’s sleep.

Common causes of neck pain include:
• Poor posture
• Stress, muscle tension
• Muscle strain
• Osteoarthritis
• Fibromyalgia
• A compressed or pinched nerve
• Disc degeneration
• Whiplash
• A spinal cord injury
• A concussion
Neck pain is also associated with:
• High-stress levels
• Anxiety
• Depression
To prevent neck pain from becoming a chronic concern, it’s important to address it right away. Stretching, lifestyle adjustments, and medication can all help alleviate muscle pain and tension in the neck.
Other conditions that cause neck pain
Neck pain can often arise from muscle tension or injuries, but certain medical conditions have neck pain as a side effect as well. This includes viral and bacterial infections, which can cause lymph nodes to become inflamed and swollen.
Neck stiffness or pain can be a symptom of:
• Meningitis
• Tonsillitis
• The common cold or the flu
• The Epstein-Barr virus or mononucleosis (mono)
• Thyroid conditions, including thyroiditis (inflammation of the gland)
• Heart disease or a heart attack

Remember that any pain, stiffness, or mobility issues involving the neck should be evaluated by a doctor. It’s important to rule out injuries and infections. Always ask for professional medical advice before trying approaches on our own.
A physical evaluation by a doctor can help identify the cause of your pain. X-ray, MRI, and ultrasound imaging can also be helpful in making a diagnosis.

Ice can help reduce inflammation and swelling by lowering blood flow to an area. Heat does the opposite, stimulating blood flow.
Both ice and heat can work together to help soothe a strained or torn muscle and give it time to heal. They can provide timely pain relief for an overworked spot on your body, such as the neck.

OTC pain relievers don’t require a prescription and can help reduce general pain and inflammation in the body. OTC pain relievers include a class of medication called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Common NSAIDs include ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen sodium (Aleve).
Another OTC pain reliever is acetaminophen (Panadol, Tylenol), but while this medication can reduce pain, it doesn’t have anti-inflammatory properties.

Stretching can help relieve pain and stiffness and prevent it from recurring in the future. It’s important to stretch gently and slowly, making sure you always breathe in and out fully. Sudden movements, or over-stretching, can cause more pain or injury.
Exercises to relieve neck pain and stiffness are often straightforward and can be done at home (or at a work desk). Stretches often used to help with neck stiffness include:
• Rolling the shoulders back and then forward in a circle
• Pressing the shoulder blades together lightly, holding the position for a few seconds, and then repeating
• Slowly turn the head from side to side, as far as is comfortable

A doctor may refer a person to a PT if they need help regaining strength and mobility in their neck after an injury. PTs can also help with chronic pain management and relief, assigning helpful exercises to train the muscles.
A licensed chiropractor manipulates the muscles and joints to provide pain relief. Chiropractors usually specialize in working on a specific area of the body. Their patients can include everyone from people recovering from injuries to pregnant people.

Massage by a trained practitioner can help to loosen and stretch the neck and back muscles.

Acupuncture involves inserting needles into specific pressure points on the body to relieve stress, tension, and pain. It’s a form of traditional Chinese medicine that has been practiced for thousands of years!
Some researchers believe acupuncture can trigger our body’s natural pain relievers, while others think it only creates a placebo effect. Regardless, acupuncture continues to be a popular holistic treatment approach across the world.

If the neck stiffness and pain started after doing a physical activity, limit that activity until the stiffness resolves. These physical activities could include activities done either as part of a job or as recreational exercise.

A stiff neck can be prevented with lifestyle changes and ergonomic workplace tools. Prevention may also mean breaking some bad habits, such as chronic poor posture. In addition, regular exercise can strengthen the muscles and make them less likely to be strained or injured.
Smoking is also a risk factor for back and neck pain, especially in those with long-term nicotine dependence.

Stress can cause people to tense the muscles in the neck, shoulders, and back. Reducing stress can help treat and prevent neck pain and stiffness. Individuals may choose to reduce stress in a variety of ways, including:
• Listening to music
• Practicing a type of meditation
• Taking a vacation or break, even if it’s just a short-day trip
• Doing something they enjoy, such as a hobby
• It can also help to set healthier boundaries in one’s personal and professional life. Practice saying “no” to demands on our time when we’re already overloaded.

Regular exercise is associated with numerous health benefits. Many of these can help prevent injury and pain due to weak muscles in the neck or can alleviate tension from stress.
Overall benefits of exercise include:
• Strengthening muscles and bones
• Boosting your immune system
• Helping you sleep better
• Improving your mental health
• Relieving stress
• Increasing your life expectancy

Ergonomics refers to adjusting a person’s workspace, schedule, or responsibilities in response to their individual needs. Basically, ergonomics is about making changes to a job to work better. Ergonomics is often used to adapt jobs to people with chronic health conditions or disabilities.
Ergonomics can offer several management options and solutions when it comes to neck pain.

Many people sit at their desks working on a computer for 8 hours each day. This can contribute to a stiff neck, as well as other long-term health conditions.

Constantly looking down at a phone can pull on our neck muscles, putting a constant strain on them, and sometimes leading to pain. This phenomenon has even earned its own term: tech neck, or text neck. Some of these tips to reduce neck strain:
• Hold the phone at eye level.
• Don’t hold the phone between the shoulder and the ear.
• Use earbuds or headphones.
• Take a break from the phone regularly.
• Adjust the position or take a break if the pain is experienced.
• After using a phone, stretch to relax the muscles.

Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the most important things for good health.
The position we sleep in at night can also affect our necks. Sleeping on our side or our back (supine) can put less strain on the neck than sleeping on the stomach (prone). However, inside sleeping, the alignment of the thoracic and cervical spine is important for preventing neck pain.
Neck pain is a common problem, affecting millions of people each year. Most of the time, a stiff neck with minor pain can be treated at home with ice, OTC pain relievers, and light stretching.