Neck pain is no joke—though sometimes diagnosing its origins can seem like some tragic comedy. Some causes of neck pain can be chalked up to the natural aging process while others, such as neck pain after sleeping, have more discernable and controllable origins. Among the most common neck pain causes is poor sleeping habits, so let’s start there.
- Neck pain comes in many types and severities
- Pillows play an uncanny role in helping treat neck pain
- Only a doctor can diagnose the severity of your neck pain via technology like x-rays
- Addressing neck pain is threefold: avoiding injury, supporting healing, and strengthening
- Medical devices like neck braces are critical to some treatments but shouldn’t always be used
- Long term use of NSAIDs can cause strange side effects and should be avoided if possible
Sleeping Positions & Neck Pain
Believe it or not, there’s been some serious scientific study focused on how sleeping positions impact neck stiffness and soreness. As many notes, sleep comprises nearly a third of our lives and if you’re causing harm to your neck with poor sleep posture it’ll start to add up fast. There are pillows and mattresses that are designed specifically to help avoid this but it pays to understand a bit about the mechanics of what you’re dealing with.
Pain is a signal to stop what you’re doing
If your neck hurts after sleeping there’s a good chance you’re not providing proper support for the natural curvature of your neck (Cervical lordosis). It’s kind of like back pain you get from slouching for long periods of time, or a cramp in your leg from trying some strange yoga move you’ve never done—it’s kind of like your body’s way of saying “whoa, this isn’t what I want.” Pain is a signal to stop what you’re doing.
The Ideal Pillow Shape
With the idea of supporting the neck’s natural shape in mind, it’s only logical to recognize pillow shape as being very influential. Flat pillows don’t provide the support your neck needs to maintain its natural curvature. Feathers and polyfill pillows rarely provide the support your neck needs to avoid pain in the morning. Certain rounded pillows, like bolsters, can contain these materials and still offer support—though they’re likely to feel awkward. Orthopedic pillows offer the truest form of support to help avoid waking up with neck pain in the morning.
See a Doctor
It’s important to realize that even the best pillow for neck pain isn’t likely to help correct orthopedic irregularities in your neck. For that, you should visit a licensed professional that can take x-rays and evaluate your condition explicitly. The same goes for other types of pain as well. There are some symptoms of neck pain that are clear signs that you should see a doctor immediately:
- Lumps or visible bulges
- Accompanying fever
- Severe headache
- Tingling in the neck or other areas of the body
- Radiating pain
- Bladder or Bowel dysfunction
These can all be signs that you’re dealing with much more than a simple case of sleeping on a bad pillow. The sooner you get an idea of what you’re dealing with, you can begin making informed decisions on how to best approach your neck pain treatment.
Neck Pain Treatments
Depending on your doctor’s assessment, treating your neck pain may (or may not) involve any number of approaches. The first steps are to collect information regarding how and why your neck pain is the way it is. These steps may include any of the following diagnostic procedures:
- CT Scan
- Lumbar Punctures
Some procedures like x-rays are quick and painless while others such as lumbar punctures can be much more inconvenient. Much like many health-related conditions, it’s best to start addressing issues early on before they require more involved approaches. Once a diagnostic procedure has been completed, you’re likely to be recommended one of these treatment paths:
- Cold and heat therapy
- Physical Therapy
- Specific stretches
- Over-the-counter (OTC) medications
- Prescription medications
These are considered ‘traditional’ therapies used in treating neck pain. Other options, considered ‘alternative medicine’ include acupuncture, massage, and chiropractors. It’s a bit silly to consider these treatments as alternative still—considering there’s plenty of evidence to support their efficacy.
Treating Pain at Home
Not all neck pain warrants ongoing professional therapy. Initial consults with doctors are essential to ensure you’re not ignoring something serious and that you’re not incorrectly treating your symptoms. After all, you really don’t want to make things any worse than they already are! Neck pain treatment is often done in a three-fold approach:
- Structural Support
- Physical Training
To get a better idea of what each of these may or may not entail, let’s consider each a bit more in-depth:
Neck Pain Medication
The type of medications recommended for your neck pain will be greatly influenced by the severity of your condition. For acute cases, such as whiplash from a car accident, your doctor may prescribe a short-course of opioid pain killers. For cases of chronic neck pain, the issues are better suited for therapy with anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen and the like. It’s important to keep in mind that long-term use of NSAIDs and other OTC drugs can have negative consequences on long-term health, such as altering one’s intestinal microbiome. Starting with a natural pain killer like CBD oil may help avoid these risks entirely.
Some neck pain stems from chronic everyday abuse. This may be bad posture at your desk, talking on the phone too long, or even a lack of exercise. These are cases where structural support from medical devices isn’t generally warranted. Cases of acute pain are entirely different.
When bones and cartilage may be damaged, your doctor will likely recommend a neck brace, a special orthopedic pillow, or any number of other medical devices designed to help prevent further injury and support the healing process. Read this neck brace guide to see if this may be the option you’re looking at.
The road to recovery is usually a tough one. Nothing heals overnight and half the battle is figuring out how not to re-injury your existing injury while also trying to let it heal. Cold and heat therapies are often used to help stimulate the release of natural antioxidants, relax muscles, and stimulate blood flow to areas of injury. To strengthen muscles, however, you have to put in some work.
Neck injury exercises are designed to help improve range of motion as well as improve resilience to injury. Stronger muscles and tendons help reduce the risk of injury—but still can’t prevent it. It’s imperative to note however that you should only do exercises recommended by your doctor. Other exercises could worsen your existing neck pain or even make it worse. Check out this list of neck pain exercises to get a better idea of where to start.
Neck pain is no joke. It can affect concentration, energy, and quickly snowball into more serious medical conditions that may require surgery or long-term medications. No fun for anyone. Working with your doctor to focus on the root cause of your pain, examining your lifestyle to help avoid actions that make things worse, and deploying preventative measures to reduce future neck pain is essential.
Whether your neck pain is from a recent car crash, developed after a powerful emotion trauma, or seems to come and go as it pleases—there’s a path towards treatment for almost every case. The first step in finding the best neck pain treatment is to get professional help. You might find effective natural pain killers that alleviate your pain but you’re not going to find anything natural that’ll get you an x-ray (at least not an let you live to talk about it!)