Who hasn’t experienced neck pain?
Everybody has, of course. That’s because neck pain can be caused by so many different things. Some of the most common causes of neck pain (as noted by this Spine-health article) are arthritis, stress, whiplash, herniated disc/s, pinched nerve<, improper posture, and even cold air.
But whether you are genetically predisposed to neck pain, or it was brought on by an obscure misfortune of life, it’s what you do about the pain that matters. Since we are all about the natural practices of medicine, we won’t talk about the most common neck pain remedies – injections and NSAIDs (anti-inflammatory drugs).
So,without further ado, let’s see what medical research says about some of the natural neck pain remedies.
NECK PAIN REMEDIES
Heating (and Cooling) Pads
This Academia.edu monocentric (took place in one location) study indicates that a 14-day self-applied heat therapy seemed to effectively reduce pain for people suffering from chronic idiopathic neck pain (pain with unknown origins).
In addition, the study showed that heat improved somatosensory function, which is the ability to interpret sensations. For example, when someone pinches you, you know it hurts because of your somatosensory system.
For easing the pain and accelerating the healing of whiplash, University of Maryland Medical Center recommends applying a heating pad. They, however, state that heat is not recommended for the first three days of a fresh injury. For the first three days, UMM recommends applying ice. In addition to whiplash, Northwell Health recommends heating and cooling pads for pain relief of cervical spondylosis (which is the degeneration of the cartilage and bones of the neck).
Exercising & Stretching
In this 16-author, 232-page Cochrane Library review, 27 trials (total of 2,485 patients) were examined to determine the effectiveness of exercising for neck pain relief. The combination of neck, shoulder, and shoulder blade strengthening exercises and stretching contributed to a small-to-large decrease in chronic pain immediately after the treatment.
Moderate quality evidence indicated that combining general upper body exercises with neck and shoulder blade specific exercises provided a mild to severe chronic pain reduction immediately. Unfortunately, the review doesn’t disclose the exact exercises performed in the process of the research. It’s also important to note that all trials included in this study were low to moderate quality and further, higher-quality research is required. The results of all of the trials pointed to rare and benign side effects from exercise.
Spine-health has an amazing article listing a series of different exercises and stretches that engage the neck, shoulder, and shoulder blade muscles. They also put a picture to go with each exercise.
Focus on proper form when exercising your neck and shoulder muscles, especially if your goal is to reduce pain. If weights are involved in your exercise, it is not a good idea to go for a new personal best. Increasing weight should be done very gradually. Check out this great article by P.T. Gavin Morrison, Neck Strengthening Exercises, for pictures and descriptions of some beneficial exercises and stretches.
The chiropractor’s office is where many people nowadays turn for neck pain relief. To paraphrase a research from the National Health Statistics Report, almost 30% of people suffering from neck pain underwent a practitioner-based treatment such as the Alexander technique or other chiropractic/osteopathic manipulation during 2011.
Still, many people (including us, at Battle the Pain) have certain reservations towards the chiropractic practice. But, in this moderate quality trial, it was observed that undergoing a manual therapy session (what the chiropractors do) twice a week, combined with stretching, reduced pain by 26-35% by the fourth week. In addition to pain relief, the neck muscles’ strength and mobility also increased by week four.
Another study regarding the effect of manual therapy on cervical radiculopathy (i.e. pinched nerve in the neck), concluded that manipulation may indeed be helpful for pain relief. Side effects of manual therapy are rare, though they can be quite severe. If you are considering undergoing manual therapy, make sure to put in the necessary research to determine the credibility level of your local chiropractor. Regular visits to the chiropractor could end costing you a lot of money over time, so bear that in mind.
Acupuncture is another, somewhat, scary one. Still, evidence suggests that not only does acupuncture make you look like a scared porcupine, but it may also help decrease neck pain and disability of different origins. According to this research paper which analyzes 27 trials, acupuncture is more effective than sham acupuncture or inactive treatment in relieving both chronic (long-term) and non-chronic pain.
Again, as with the chiropractor, we advise you to do your research to make sure you’re going to the right place. Acupuncture has rare and mild side effects like fatigue, soreness, bruising, etc. It can also improve the quality of your sleep, which might come in handy if your neck pain is keeping you up at night.
Your sleeping posture and the kind of pillow you use may have a lot to do with your neck pain or stiffness. According to this Health Harvard article, the best sleeping positions are on your back and on your side. On the contrary, sleeping on your stomach can be especially harmful to your neck, as your head is twisted in an unnatural way for long periods of time.
As far as pillows go, the article recommends that if you sleep on your back, you should use a small, rounded pillow to support the slight natural curve of your neck. In the article, it’s also advised to use another, slightly lower and stiffer pillow to support your head. For people who sleep on their side, Health Harvard recommends using a pillow which is higher under your neck and lower under your head, to keep your spine straight.
Professors from the University of South Australia School of Health & Sciences conducted a study, which aimed to determine whether there is a connection between different types of pillows and symptoms like neck stiffness, headaches, or scapular pain for side sleepers. The study included the following types of pillows: polyester, regular foam and contour foam, latex, and feather pillows.
The results showed the latex pillows performed best, as far as decreasing neck stiffness, headaches, and scapular pain. Interestingly enough, the Health Harvard article we referred to in the paragraph above, recommends the use of feather pillows for relieving stiff neck, while in the study above, feather pillows performed the worst of all types of pillows examined.