A stiff neck is a common problem. It often occurs due to sleeping in an awkward position, sitting in front of a computer for a prolonged period, or straining a muscle due to bad posture or carrying heavy loads that put too much pressure on the shoulders.
Other causes include anxiety and stress that create tension in the neck muscles, trauma or injury that affects the neck, and some diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, meningitis or cancer.
The main symptoms are soreness, pain and difficulty moving the neck, especially when trying to turn the head to the side. At times, a stiff neck may cause a headache, shoulder pain or arm pain.
A stiff neck does not usually indicate a serious medical problem, but it can hinder your daily activities and make it hard to sleep. Lack of sleep can make things worse.
This problem usually gets better after a few days or a week. However, you can use some simple lifestyle changes and home remedies to ease the pain and stiffness. If your condition does not get better within a week or if it occurs with a high fever, consult your doctor immediately.
Here are the top 10 ways to get rid of a stiff neck.
Massage is a good option to treat a stiff neck. A gentle massage will help relax the muscles while increasing blood circulation. This in turn will help reduce the stiffness. Moreover, it will help you sleep better.
- Take a hot bath or shower to relax your muscles.
- Slightly warm some olive, coconut or mustard oil.
- Apply the oil on the affected area.
- Massage using firm yet gentle strokes for several minutes.
If you cannot do the massage on your own due to the stiffness, get help from a friend or a professional massage therapist.
2. Neck Exercises
Performing a series of neck exercises can be highly beneficial for treating a stiff neck.
It will relieve tension caused by the tight, strained neck muscles.
- Sit up straight, while keeping your body relaxed.
- Nod your head forward (toward your chest) and backward (toward the sky). Repeat these motions for a few minutes.
- Tilt your head alternately down toward your right shoulder and then toward your left shoulder. Repeat for a few minutes.
- Without turning your body, slowly turn your head and look to the right, then look to the left. Alternate this movement repeatedly for a few minutes.
- End your exercise with a few gentle shoulder rolls.
Note: Avoid doing any neck exercise if it hurts too much.
To prevent a stiff neck, go swimming on a regular basis. It improves the overall strength of the neck and back. However, make sure that you follow the proper swimming techniques and do not overdo your workout.
3. Cold Compresses
Soothe a stiff neck with a cold compress. The cold temperature will help numb pain and limit the buildup of lactic acid, a normal by product of muscle metabolism which can cause soreness.
- Wrap some ice cubes in a thin towel.
- Hold the compress against the stiff area of your neck for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Repeat every 2 hours for the first 48 hours.
Instead of ice, you can also use a bag of frozen peas in the same way.
Note: Do not apply ice directly on the skin.
4. Heat Therapy
If you do not get relief after 48 hours of using the cold compress, try heat therapy. Heat will increase the blood flow, which in turn will decrease stiffness.
- Apply a hot compress on the neck area for at least 10 minutes. Repeat 3 or 4 times a day until you get complete relief. A hot compress can be in the form of a heating pad, hot water bottle, heat wrap or a hot towel.
- Also, stand in the shower and run warm to slightly hot water on your neck for about 5 minutes. Do not turn or move your neck while doing this. Repeat 2 or 3 times a day.
5. Epsom Salt
Epsom salt, made up of the chemical compound magnesium sulfate, can help ease a stiff neck.
It helps regulate the activity of various enzymes in the body and improves circulation. This in turn reduces muscle tension and stress.
- Add 2 cups of Epsom salt to a bathtub full of warm water.
- Soak in this bathwater with your neck area submerged for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Do this up to 3 times a week.
Note: Do not use this remedy if you are kidney problems or diabetes.
6. Peppermint Oil
Peppermint oil has menthol that helps soothe stiff muscles in the neck. Moreover, its analgesic property will help reduce pain and discomfort.
- Warm 2 teaspoons of olive oil in the microwave for a few seconds. Add a few drops of peppermint essential oil to it. Gently massage your neck with this warm oil. Use this remedy twice daily for a few days.
- Alternatively, add 2 drops of peppermint oil to a big bowl of cold water. Soak a washcloth in the water, then place it on the affected area for 10 to 15 minutes. Repeat as needed.
Note: Peppermint oil is not suitable for children or those who have sensitive skin.
7. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that help treat a stiff neck. Moreover, it can help prevent muscle strain and pain related to nutrient deficiencies.
- Soak a paper napkin in raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar. Place it on the affected area. Allow it to sit for a few hours. Use this remedy twice daily until you feel better.
- Another option is to add 2 cups of apple cider vinegar to lukewarm bathwater. Soak in it for at least 15 minutes once daily until you recover completely.
8. Cayenne Pepper
Cayenne pepper is another effective remedy to get rid of a stiff neck. It contains capsaicin that has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties, which help reduce pain and inflammation.
- Mix 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper powder in 2 tablespoons of warm olive oil. Apply this mixture to the affected area, cover with a bandage and leave it on for a few hours. Do this for a few days.
- Another option is to massage the affected area with an over-the-counter cream or lotion that has cayenne pepper or capsaicin as one of the main ingredients.
- You can also include cayenne pepper in your cooking to speed up recovery.
The anti-inflammatory property of turmeric can help relieve discomfort caused by a stiff neck. It also helps improve blood circulation.
- Mix 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder in 1 cup of milk. Heat it on low for 5 minutes. Allow it to cool and then add a little honey. Drink it 2 times daily for a few days.
- Include turmeric in your daily cooking.
- Alternatively, you can take turmeric in capsule or tablet form, but only after consulting a doctor.
Note: Turmeric may not be suitable for those suffering from gallstones or a bile duct obstruction.
Acupressure is a traditional Chinese treatment that can help get rid of a stiff neck, especially when it is caused by bad posture. Here, a therapist applies pressure to specific points to ease pain.
Luo Zhen is the name of the acupressure point found on the back of the hand that can help treat a stiff neck. The point is located in the depression between the two bones near the knuckles of the middle and pointer fingers.
If your neck is stiff on the right side, then massage the point on your left hand, and vice versa. Massage this point by applying light pressure into it with your fingertip. Maintain the pressure for a couple of minutes. In the meantime, exercise your neck by rotating your head side to side.
- Try the skin-scraping technique to get rid of a stiff neck. Lubricate the sore area with a little massage oil and then gently scrape the skin with the edge of a spoon. Start from the top of your neck coming all the way down to the top of your shoulders. This Chinese remedy is a type of massage to get the blood flow to the aching area. As it is difficult to do on your own, you may take a friend’s help. Better still, get it done by an acupuncturist.
- Get 7 to 8 hours of sound sleep every night. Getting enough rest will help your body heal quickly.
- Do not sleep on your stomach. Try to sleep on your side or back.
- Try sleeping without a pillow for a few nights.
- Make sure your mattress is firm enough to provide support for your spine and neck.
- Avoid driving, as it may aggravate the problem.
- Avoid putting any strain on the neck muscles, as it will increase the pain and delay the healing process.
- Use relaxation techniques to combat emotional stress that can trigger muscle tension.
- Practice good posture throughout the day when sitting or standing.
- Being overweight puts a strain on all of the body’s muscles, so try to lose excess weight.
- Take frequent breaks while at work to reduce stress on your neck.
- Avoid crimping your phone between your neck and shoulder.
- Avoid doing heavy physical exercises for a week as it may worsen the pain.