Neck pain is a common occurrence amongst many of us, and the majority of cases aren’t due to anything serious and can improve independently within a few weeks. The most important part of this healing process is to keep active and undertake neck pain exercises, bed rest that lasts longer than a couple of days can make it more difficult to get going. You should aim to gradually increase your normal activities and participate in regular exercise.   If necessary, take painkillers so that you can keep active and your pain should start to subside within 2 weeks. You should make a full recovery over a 4–6 week period. Use the following forms of neck pain exercises for at least 6–8 weeks in order to help prevent the symptoms from returning. If you have severe neck pain or weakness in your arms or hands, seek help from your doctor.

How the neck works

There are in total seven bones that form the neck which are called the cervical vertebrae. These bones are linked together by facet joints and neck muscles which enable you to move your head in any direction. Placed between the bones are discs of cartilage, medically known as inter vertebral discs. At the level of each of these discs, nerve roots branch out from the spinal cord and impulses travel along these nerves. These impulses are responsible for sending out sensations, such as touch and pain to the brain. The bones are there to ensure that the head is supported and to protect the spinal cord.

Common causes of neck pain

A common form of neck pain is caused by cervical spondylosis and occurs due to everyday use of the neck over many years. With this condition, the discs become thinner, the facet joints wear out and the spaces that are between the bones become narrower. Spurs of bone, more commonly referred to as osteophytes, form at the edges of the vertebrae and the facet joints. These changes that occur are similar in nature to those seen in patients suffering with osteoarthritis. Taking painkillers has been known to ease the pain, and this in combination with the right exercise can help to stretch and strengthen out the neck muscles.

Whiplash

Patients from suffering from whiplash injuries have usually been involved in some sort of low or high velocity impact, such as a car accident. Whiplash is caused by the body being jolted forward, resulting in the head flipping back, throwing the head forwards. There is frequently a delay prior to the patient feeling any pain or stiffness in the neck region. It is thought, that the pain is due to stretching of the ligaments and the capsule that surround the facet joints. As well as this, a muscle spasm occurs as the body tries to splint the injury. Even though whiplash can strain your neck badly, in the majority of cases, patients have seen an improvement within a few weeks or months. Seat belts that are adequately adjusted in cars reduce the damage caused from whiplash injuries. As well as this, gentle forms of exercise help to keep the neck mobile and stop longer term damage, so that you can get return to normal as soon as possible.

Tension

Muscles that are located at the back of the neck must be kept tense in order to keep the body upright. When we are suffering from stress, we usually tense these muscles even more, which can result in neck pain and tension headaches. By taking the time out to relax and exercise can in turn help to ease tension in this area.

What can be done to assist?

Exercise

It is the most important way that you can help your neck. It will ease stiffness and pain through building up muscle strength and stamina, as well as improve your flexibility. If your neck pain lasts continually over a sustained period, a lack of mobility can cause the muscles to become weak. This then makes it more likely that you will strain them in future.

Medication

Iburofen as well as paracetamol are forms of pain killers that may help with neck pain. However, it is important to be aware at all times of your intake with these forms of medication, always seek advice from your doctor in order to take the recommended dose for your pain. Do not postpone this until your pain is severe before taking painkillers.  Do not take ibuprofen or aspirin if you are pregnant or are suffering from asthma.

Neck pain exercises

Below we have listed some common and effective exercises to help relieve neck pain...

Neck tilt

  Tilt your head down, aim to rest your chin onto your chest. Now gently tense your neck muscles and hold for a count of 5 seconds. Return to a neutral position and repeat this movement 5 times.

Neck tilt (side to side)

Tilt your head down slowly towards your shoulder. Lead this movement with your ear. Now lightly tense your neck muscles and hold for around 5 seconds. Once you have finished that, return your head back to the centre and repeat this movement on the opposite side. Repeat this 5 times on each side.

Neck turn

Turn your head towards one side, whilst ensuring to keep your chin at the same height at all times, move your neck comfortably, do not strain. Tense your neck muscles gently and hold for 5 seconds. Now return your head back to centre and repeat this movement on the opposite side. Repeat 5 times on each side.

Neck stretch

To do this movement you will need to keep the rest of your body straight. Start by moving your chin forward so that your throat is stretched outwards. Lightly tense your neck muscles and hold for around 5 seconds. Return your head back to the centre and push it backwards, whilst you keep your chin up. Hold this movement for 5 seconds and repeat 5 times.

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