Neck pain and how to manage it

Aches & Pains Neck pain and how to manage it

Neck pain and how to manage it

Neck pain may seem unusual, but most of us will experience neck pain at some point in our lives.1

Although it’s an annoying problem, for most people it needn’t have a major impact on day-to-day life,1 and there are many ways to manage the pain and prevent it in the future.

What causes neck pain?

In some cases, neck pain can be the result of whiplash during an accident (for more information on this, read the article What is Whiplash?), but for most people there is no serious cause.3

However, there are some factors that can increase the risk of developing neck pain:

  • Muscle strain. Sitting behind a computer all day can increase the  chances of neck pain.4
  • Repetitive work. Examples of this type of work include working on a factory production line, or work that requires very precise movements, such as sewing.1
  • Osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis can also affect the neck.4 For more information on this condition, read the article What is Osteoarthritis?
  • Physical activity1 Activities such as lifting heavy items or some sports can cause neck pain.

Neck pain can be quite severe, but should improve within one to two weeks although for some people it can take up to several months to get better.4 Either way, it’s important to talk to a doctor as neck pain can be a sign of a more serious condition.

Be positive

It may sound like a cliché , but having a positive mental attitude can make a real difference. Becoming worried, angry or frustrated can make it harder to get over a bout of neck pain, while being positive and findings ways to cope can work wonders.1  Ways to help ease the pain include:

  • Staying active.3 Keeping the neck moving is important as it helps to prevent long-term problems.2 The American College of Rheumatology recommends gradually moving the neck in every direction. This helps stretch the neck muscles and is particularly helpful during a warm shower.4
  • Taking pain relievers. Pain relievers, such as paracetamol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, can help ease the pain and increase mobility.3,4, 5 It’s best to take these regularly, as instructed by the label, to keep the pain at bay.3
  • Doing neck exercises.3 Gentle neck exercises can also help to keep the body moving. For more information, read the Chin Tuck and Head Turn exercises.
  • Trying hot and cold therapies. In the first 48 hours after a neck injury, it can help to apply ice packs to the affected area. After this period applying heat packs may also help.4
  • Using a firm pillow at night. Try a pillow that supports the hollow of the neck.5
  • Wearing neck collars/braces. These can be used for a short period.4,5 However, some experts now believe it is better to try and keep the neck moving.

Naturally, prevention is better than cure. Taking regular computer breaks, improving posture, exercising regularly (including neck exercises) and stopping smoking may all help. It also pays to take care when doing everyday tasks like lifting the children into the car, or carrying shopping bags.



  1. Haldeman S, Carroll L, Cassidy D, et al. The Bone and Joint Decade 2000-2010 Task Force on neck pain and its associated disorders: Executive Summary. Spine, 2008; 33 (Supp 4S): S5-S7. Available at:
  2. Australian Government. National Health and Medical Research Council. Acute neck pain. Information sheet, February 2004. Available at:
  3. Australian Government. National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian Acute Musculoskeletal Pain Guidelines Group. Evidence-based management of acute musculoskeletal pain. December 2003. Available at:
  4. American College of Rheumatology. Neck pain. August 2009. Available at: Accessed August 2010.
  5. UK Clinical Knowledge Summaries. Neck pain – non-specific. Available at: Accessed August 2010.