How to Fix a Stiff Neck

You wake up with a stiff neck and along your shoulder blade, making it painful to turn your head or even use the arm on the affected side. Now what? “I must have slept wrong” is the most common explanation.

Doing heavy work or playing sports such as golf or tennis can also cause a stiff neck. So can desk work with your head in a strained position? Add worry and stress, which can make you tense up, and the likelihood of a stiff neck increase.


Orthopedists don’t have a real definition of stiff necks a catch-all term for many neck ailments. Holding your head in an abnormal position for an extended time—for example, if you sleep on a pillow that’s bigger or smaller than the one you are used to—can strain your neck muscles, which go into spasm, causing stiffness.


A related theory: two small “facet” joints in each pair of neck vertebrae allow movement, and if you strain the ligaments around these joints, they become painful, throwing the muscles into a protective spasm. This is sometimes known as facet syndrome, a term used for other types of neck pain, such as whiplash injury. Holding the neck in an awkward position can stretch ligaments, too, causing inflammation. So can rotating or bending the neck suddenly.


A stiff neck will usually go away by itself in a few days without medical attention. But can be temporarily disabling and is certainly distressing.


How to treat a stiff neck

Apply heat to the neck or shoulder, or alternate heat and ice.


Try water therapy. Stand under a warm shower and do some gentle range-of-motion neck and shoulder exercises.


Do self-massage, or get a therapeutic massage


If your stiff neck does not get better with home treatment, see an Acupuncturist. If you have additional symptoms, such as tingling or weakness in your arms, be sure to seek medical attention.

How to keep stiff neck away If you’re prone to a stiff neck, gently stretch your neck muscles every day. Rotate your head; pull it from side to side. Be sure your bed and pillow help keep your neck in proper alignment. Avoid awkward positions while sleeping. If you work at a computer, hold your head comfortably—not too far forward or back. Take frequent breaks and rotate your head gently.

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