Neck pain can be caused by a host of reasons some big and some small.  If you find your neck pain is reoccurring and not getting any better, we recommend you visit your medical professional. Ultimately, the best way to deal with neck pain is to find the root cause and eliminate it entirely. That said, if you are dealing with a minor issue or have to wait a few days to see your doctor here are some tips to help you get a good night’s sleep without further exacerbating any existing issues.

1. Use an ergonomic pillow.

Think of your neck like Goldilocks, it’s important that your pillow and mattress are not too firm or too soft but are both just right. If you are sleeping on a pillow that is too firm, you may sleep with your neck overflexed. On the other side of things if your pillow is too soft, your head may sink down causing your neck to be strained the other direction.

2. Make sure your entire body is in proper alignment.

In addition to keeping your neck in alignment, you need to keep your entire body in a position that is conducive to safe sleeping. Sleeping on your side, possibly with a pillow between your legs to keep your spine in proper position can alleviate pain in the rest of your body.

Avoid sleeping on your back if at all possible. When you sleep on your back you tend to turn your head to one side, leaving your neck twisted into an awkward position for hours at a time.

3. Use an over the counter pain reliever.

If your neck pain is a small issue and the discomfort is minor, you can use an over the counter pain reliever to make you more comfortable before bed. It helps if you know what is causing your discomfort because each pain reliever has different benefits and drawbacks depending on their active ingredients and how often you take them. For instance, NSAID’s can be used to reduce inflammation caused by aching or stiff muscles but may cause stomach bleeding or ulcers and increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.

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Similarlyacetaminophen can alsohelp reduce inflammation by blocking pain messages from the brain. While acetaminophen can be very effective, possible negative side effects may include an allergic reaction or liver damage with long term use.  While over the counter medication may not seem as serious as prescription drugs, it is important to consult with your medical team prior to starting any kind of new medication.

4. Apply heat / ice before and after bed.

This is another at home treatment that will be most effective if you know the root cause of your pain because the heat and ice work differently to help you. When you apply heat to your neck to help with pain, the heat works to loosen your muscles and reduce tension and stiffness. When you apply cold to the area you are actually numbing the area and reducing swelling. With either approach you should always wrap the warm or cold item in a towel or protective sleeve to protect your skin. You should also use the hot or cold compress for no more than 20 minutes at a time.

5. Stretch, gently!

With your doctor’s approval, you can slowly and gently start stretching your neck, back and shoulders to release tension and improve your ability to sleep comfortably. You should remember that your muscles may be tight, and it is important to go slowly. You should also stop immediately if you experience any sharp pain. Here are a few simple, easy stretches to get you started:

a. Slowly turn your head to one side. Then very gently, turn your chin softly a little bit further in the direction it is turned towards.  Hold for 15 – 20 seconds and then release. Slowly return your head to center and do the same thing on the other side.

b. Stand up straight and start by facing forward. Then, slowly tilt your chin towards the ceiling. Hold for 15 – 30 seconds. Return your head to center and then do the same thing but slowly tilt your chin towards your chest and your gaze towards the floor. Repeat this cycle several times.

c. Keep your back and shoulders straight and hold your head as though there was a string pulling up the top of your head to the sky so that your neck and head are straight with your gaze facing forward. Gently tilt your head so that your left ear moves towards your left shoulder and you can feel the stretch in your neck on the opposite side. Hold for 15 – 30 seconds then return to center. Do the same thing on the right side. Perform several repetitions.

6. Get Medical Help

If you experience neck pain for more than a couple days or it is intense at any time, your best course of action is to seek a diagnosis from a medical professional. While you may be experiencing a simple strain or pulled muscle, your doctor can perform a thorough assessment and recommend the best treatments to help speed along your recovery. Additionally, if there is a more serious underlying issue, early intervention is key to effective treatment.

If you have reoccurring neck pain that is keeping you up at night, contact our office. Our experienced team of pain management professionals are here to give you an accurate diagnosis and develop a treatment plan that will help you live life to its fullest, pain free.