Is there any way to shorten the recovery period for sudden neck pain?
November 8, 2019 4:17 AM   Subscribe

Do you ever turn your head while awake or asleep and feel a muscle in your neck do something weird, which results in not being able to turn your head normally and without pain for several days? That happened to me this morning and today has been a complete waste.

I am a woman, middle-aged, about 25 pounds overweight (my health is generally good, I just saw my doctor for a physical last week, they are happy with me) who walks about 15-20 miles a week for exercise. I used to wake up with debilitating neck pain all the time but it has been years since the last time it happened.

Is there any way to speed up the healing process and get my full range of head-turning motion back more quickly? It usually takes days to feel typical again and I really would like this to resolve itself in a shorter time frame if at all possible.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried those heated wraps that you stick to you body? Thermacare is probably the most popular/widely available near me. They stay warm for 8-12 hours and you can wear them under clothes and they help loosen things up for me, though I don’t get such severe symptoms as you describe.
posted by mskyle at 4:26 AM on November 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

Ice! I had a doctor explain it to me this way. For the muscle spasm to go away, you need blood flow to the area. When you put a cold pack on it, your body wants to warm up, blood vessels open up, and blood flow to the area increases. He recommended 15 min of a cold pack, followed by some light stretching, then more cold pack. I've been doing this for years and it dramatically shortens the recovery time.
posted by selfmedicating at 4:39 AM on November 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

Ibuprofen will help reduce inflammation and speed up healing. Make sure you take it with food, though!
posted by Murderbot at 4:45 AM on November 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

Happens to me all the time. IAMNYD, but I take two approaches as I have a herniated disk:

1) If it’s something pinching the nerve and I can’t feel a physical knot, I use gentle heat and rest.
2) If I can feel a knot, I get a friend to rub that bugger out, then apply one of those Traditional Chinese Medicine herbal patches. It’s cranky the rest of the day, but better the next morning.
posted by executive_dysfuncti0n at 5:04 AM on November 8, 2019

This happened to me about a month ago. I was rinsing my hair in the shower, something I've done pretty much every day for a few decades now, and felt a muscle wrench up in my neck. Awful! I immediately made an appointment with my chiropractor. He told me ice pack and ibuprofen...and did a gentle adjustment that day and I felt 75% better. He gave me some exercises to do, I went back again two days later for one more adjustment and was pretty much normal by then. YMMV but I have found that my chiropractor is a lifesaver for situations just like this. Feel better!!
posted by pearlybob at 5:26 AM on November 8, 2019

This happens to me a few times a year. Ice speeds up the recovery, especially for full range of movement.

When icing, don't apply ice directly to skin, wrap in a damp cloth. Similar with ice packs, but be aware that they lose their cold a bit faster.

Don't apply ice for longer than 20 minutes, and reapply up to every 2 hours.

I'll also note that I've installed blind spot mirrors to my car, so I can safely drive during the times this happens.
posted by nobeagle at 5:52 AM on November 8, 2019

If you can react when it starts to wrench, and just kinda slump, that reduces the ultimate amount of hurtin'. I've had to train myself to do this.

Once the full tweak is there, though, time for mitigation. Ice, heat, NSAIDs are all on the menu. I also found a stretching exercise helps to get everything back in line.
-Stand in front of a short section of wall, or a square building column.
-Cross your arms in front of you, so your elbows are stacked and, when you bend your wrists, your hands can gently grasp the wall or column.
-Slowly turn your head back and forth. Be deliberate. *Will* your head all the way to the right, and left, and right...
-Switch so the other arm is on top, and repeat.

Unfortunately, it helps to practice this when you're *not* in pain, so you have good form when you're hurting. (and when you're not in pain, you're not thinking about it, so you forget to practice...)
posted by notsnot at 5:53 AM on November 8, 2019

I discovered this one recently and it works great if the pain/stiffness is mostly on one side. Let's say it's on the left. Stand up straight, pull your shoulders back, put your left arm behind your back, bent 90 degrees at the elbow, hand out straight. Now bend your head down to your right shoulder as far as it will go. Think of this as trying to put your right ear onto your shoulder, so that your neck doesn't twist but just bends to the right. Repeat 10-12 times. If the problem is on the right side, reverse all of the above. Do this at least every two hours but as often as you can.

Another one that might work is: Stand up straight, pull your chin back as far as possible while holding head straight up. Then put one hand against your chin and the other hand on that hand, and push your chin back even further. Relax and repeat, but don't move your chin forward between pushes. Also keep shoulders back. Do that 10-12 times, every couple of hours.

For either of these or the one that notsnot suggested, or any other stretch, if it is the right stretch, you should feel some relief right away. All of them are ways of relieving pressure on a nerve that's causing the pain, but not all of them will work in your particular case. But when you find a stretch that does provide some relief, that's your signal to keep doing it. There might be several stretches that work this way. I've found that almost complete cure can happen inside of 24 hours.

Also, sleep on a good cervical pillow.
posted by beagle at 6:20 AM on November 8, 2019

I have chronic neck pain with a herniated disc and arthritis. What helps me, almost immediately but often temporarily, is:

Lying on a foam roller. First with it vertical, with my neck hanging off the back. I lay on it and gently roll it back and forth along my spine. Then I lay in it crosswise, with my shoulders resting on it, and roll it up and down my back.

I also have a cervical traction device that I use occasionally. This is a little device that you lay on and when you pump it up it pulls your head away from your body, stretching your neck. This feels REALLY good as I'm doing it and will often "cure" my pain for a while afterwards.

Just to throw in an IANAD disclaimer: I'm not sure I can recommend either of these things without first talking to a physical therapist or doctor.
posted by bondcliff at 6:24 AM on November 8, 2019

McKenzie Technique helps me!
posted by stray at 6:37 AM on November 8, 2019

Acupuncture works for me. Back to 90% right after an hour long session.
posted by neematoad at 6:44 AM on November 8, 2019

ah, i just had this problem!

things that helped:

- motivationaldoc on youtube has a lot of neck pain relief videos on his channel. i've only tried two of them, but they both instantly produced some improvement in my neck pain: this simple occipital decompression technique, and this myofascial technique.

- the foam roller technique bondcliff described. i also lay on the floor with my knees bent and amy head resting on the roller like it's a pillow, and slowly turn my head left and right, so that the neck muscles are getting pressure right where they join the back of the skull

- yoga. yoga with adriene on youtube has "yoga for text neck" and other videos focused on back, neck and shoulders.

- mckenzie method exercises

- walking. going for a long walk seems to help loosen things up in my back and neck (and distracts me from the pain!)
posted by the thought-fox at 6:59 AM on November 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

Like others have mentioned, stretching helps. The other thing I do is to sleep on the side of the neck injury, with my pillow in a configuration that hurts my neck most. This sounds absurd, but - let's say I pulled the left side of my neck and it hurts to put my ear to my left shoulder. I sleep on my left on the side of my pillow (or maybe even without a pillow) so my left ear is towards my left shoulder. When I do this, I usually wake up with a much bigger range of motion and almost no pain.
posted by beyond_pink at 7:28 AM on November 8, 2019

muscle relaxers will knock it out in 15-20 minutes. also never ever let anyone "adjust" your neck. god. not ever.
posted by poffin boffin at 7:54 AM on November 8, 2019 [11 favorites]

I like to use Tiger Balm for this sort of neck pain and the pain generally goes away in about a day. I tend to do this to myself while sleeping and it usually means that I need to replace my pillow.
posted by rdnnyc at 8:09 AM on November 8, 2019

Chiropractor. I once had a chiropractor scan my body with some machine, which enabled her to locate the exact source of my neck pain. A few cracks, and boom! I could move again. It felt miraculous.

In case you happen to be using a cross-body bag—that was what caused my neck pain, and since throwing mine out, I haven’t had that pain again (it’s been a decade +). Having the weight of your bag press down on your shoulder and then fall by your other hip really messes with your body. Just a thought!
posted by saltypup at 8:35 AM on November 8, 2019

Everything I do is suggested above, I'm just here to evangelize about Biofreeze. It's not sticky like rubs and balms, and it comes in a rollerball dispenser. It does smell, but it's not as pungent as the rubs are.

I do this to myself about quarterly, usually by rolling over using my head as a lever instead of using my elbows and hips to do the bulk of the work. It's hard to stop myself doing it since I'm asleep when I do it, but I am trying to be very mindful about proper technique when I'm awake in hopes it'll become automatic.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:06 AM on November 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Nthing a chiropractor. One or two adjustments with some heat and ice and stretching makes this better for me within a day or two.
posted by ananci at 9:44 AM on November 8, 2019

Taking exactly one Valium before going to bed has helped friends with this issue.
posted by melodykramer at 9:59 AM on November 8, 2019

I take valerian capsules as an OTC muscle relaxer - good when your muscles hurt so much you're having trouble sleeping.

If you have access to health care and this happens somewhat regularly, +1 muscle relaxers are a reasonable thing to ask for. I got cyclobenzeprine for ongoing neck pain, and it worked but also put me to sleep for 10+ hours.

The brand-name stick-on heating pads have the filling better distributed and are shaped better.

No sitting for more than half an hour - get up and do gentle-but-uncomfortable neck stretches. If this is a regular occurrence and it's an option, a PT can set you up with exercises.

Weightlifting helped me develop my neck/shoulder muscles enough that this rarely happens to me now even though I quit lifting, I highly recommend it. I just used a basic routine with dumbbells and saw results in a few months.
posted by momus_window at 11:32 AM on November 8, 2019

Special neck pillow, eg, cervical memory foam pillow
posted by typecloud at 12:45 PM on November 8, 2019

Seconding thermacare heat wraps. Allows you to move more naturally, and maintaining some range of motion naturally helps restore pain-free movement.
posted by sixswitch at 1:35 PM on November 8, 2019

Isometric exercises for neck and shoulder?
posted by quercus23 at 4:33 PM on November 8, 2019

« Older How best to organise old family photos?   |   Arabic calligraphy, Marvel edition Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.