Neck pain or a stiff neck is a common problem which usually gets better after a few days or weeks. It’s rarely a sign of anything serious.
You can often get a painful or stiff neck if you:
- sleep in an awkward position
- use a computer for a prolonged period of time
- strain a muscle because of bad posture
- stress or have anxiety, this can also sometimes cause tension in your neck muscles, leading to neck pain.
Managing neck pain at home
For most types of general neck pain, the advice is to carry on with your normal daily activities, keep active, and take painkillers to relieve the symptoms.
These steps may help you to manage your pain:
- take regular doses of paracetamol, ibuprofen, or a combination of the two, to control pain – ibuprofen gel can be rubbed on to your neck as an alternative to taking tablets (always follow the instructions that come with the medication)
- try holding a hot water bottle or heat pack to your neck – this can help reduce the pain and any muscle spasms, although some people find cold packs offer better relief
- avoid wearing a neck collar – there’s no evidence to suggest wearing a neck collar will help to heal your neck, and it’s generally better to keep your neck mobile
- avoid driving if you find it difficult to turn your head – this may prevent you being able to view traffic
- if your neck is stiff or twisted, try some neck exercises – gently tense your neck muscles as you tilt your head up and down and from side to side, and as you carefully twist your neck from left to right; these exercises will help strengthen your neck muscles and improve your range of movement
When to seek medical advice
You should see your GP if:
- the pain or stiffness doesn’t improve after a few days or weeks
- you can’t control the pain using ordinary painkillers
- you’re worried your neck pain could have a more serious cause
Your GP will examine your neck and ask some questions to help identify any underlying condition. They may also prescribe a stronger painkiller, such as codeine, to take with your usual over-the-counter painkillers.
If you’ve had neck pain or stiffness for a month or more, your GP may be able to refer you to a physiotherapist.
If your symptoms are particularly severe or don’t improve, your GP may consider prescribing more powerful medication or referring you to a pain specialist for further treatment.