Nobody likes having a stiff neck. Whether it’s long hours stuck in traffic, endless days at the office, or long nights of poor sleep, there are many everyday activities that harm your neck and make it tight. Ibuprofen can only get you so far and stiff neck remedies don’t seem to be easy to come by. Or are they? Read on to find out what you can do to relieve neck pain, naturally with one or more of these 21 simple “tricks”.
Common Causes Of A Stiff Neck
Weak neck muscles are one of the most common causes of a stiff neck. Dr. Andrew Bang, a chiropractor at the Cleveland Clinic, explains how it happens over time (1):
“Now they’re weak and you go to turn and instead of the joint nicely moving it’s now out of place. Then it catches on something and pulls a muscle or hits the nerve irregularly and then you’ll have instant pain and your body will, we call it ‘protective spasm.’ It doesn’t want you to get hurt more, so it will (crunching noise) and now you’re like ‘Oh, I can’t even move.’ And you’re wondering what you did,” Bang explained.
Neck stiffness is typically characterized by soreness and difficulty moving the neck, especially when trying to turn or tilt your head to the side (2).
This limited range of motion can be more than a nuisance, especially if you have an active lifestyle or need to do something as simple as drive somewhere.Pain causes include:
- Muscle Strain or sprain
- Muscle spasms
- Sleeping with the neck in an awkward position
- Sports injuries
- Repeatedly turning the head from side to side
- Poor posture
- Excessive stress
- Pinched nerve
- Holding the neck in an abnormal position for a long period
- Cervical Spine Disorders, including cervical herniated disc, cervical degenerative disc disease, and cervical osteoarthritis.
Neck pain or neck stiffness normally subsides after a couple days to a week. It can be anything from mild, annoying pain to extreme pain. If your pain is manageable, and it’s not accompanied by other symptoms, it’s nothing to worry about. Pain medications may provide some relief, but they won’t address the cause. With the right stretches, care, and strengthening exercises, your neck pain will be a thing of the past!
21 Stiff Neck Remedies
Find out how to how to get rid of neck pain by reading the home remedies below. If you have chronic pain, incorporate these into your pain management routine. Remember to consult your doctor right away if you experience worsening pain or a sharp increase in pain.
1. Japanese Neck Trick
You’ll need a friend for this trick, so grab a stiff-necked coworker during your lunch break and take turns to renew your muscles.
- Lie on your back with your arms folded over your abdomen.
- Have your friend roll up a hand towel and place it under your right shoulder.
- Bend your right arm at a 90-degree angle, resting your upper arm on the floor beside and above your head.
- Touch your right shoulder with your left hand.
- Hold the position for a few seconds as you breathe deeply.
- Ask your friend to remove the towel, place it under your left shoulder and repeat.
2. Simple Neck Trick
This simple trick from the Cleveland Clinic will help get rid of a sore neck in most cases (3). Plus, you can do it in the car before going to work and during your commute home.
Here’s how to do it:
- Roll your shoulders backward and down 10 times.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together 10 times.
- Push your head backward into your car headrest or into hands and hold for 30 seconds.
- Bring your ear to your shoulder 10 times on each side.
3. 60-Second Fix
This quick massage easily brings relief to neck and shoulder pain, and muscle tension (4). All you need is your hands!
- Find the sore spot using the arm on the same of your body as your pain. If it’s on the right side of your neck or upper back, place your right hand on the area and vice-versa.
- Push your fingers into the knot using firm pressure. It should be a good hurt that you can tolerate, not a sharp pain. If you can’t quite reach, use a tennis ball and lean against the wall.
- Turn your head slightly in the direction opposite the cramp, and bend it as if you were trying to touch your armpit with your chin.
- Repeat about 20 times in a row. Follow up with a nice, long, just-got-out-of-bed style stretch.
- Repeat throughout the day as necessary.
4. Static Back Exercise
This exercise loosens up tight shoulder to release the muscles connected to your neck. This is a great passive way to loosen up those knots!
- Lie on the floor with your legs on a chair or ottoman, with both your knees and hips at a ninety-degree angle.
- Place your arms on the floor with your palms up.
- Stay here until your back settles into the floor, typically 5-10 min.
Bonus: this same position works wonders on lower back pain!
5. Static Extension Position Exercise
This stretch might feel like you’re going deeper into your bad posture, but it works! By hanging your head in front of you in this position, you are literally unlocking your shoulder girdle, which can get stuck in an awkward place. However, it is challenging and you’ll feel it in more than just your neck.
- Start on the ground on all fours, with your wrists under your shoulders, and your knees under your hips.
- Walk your hands out in front of you about six inches, then shift your body forward so your shoulders stack right over your wrists. Your hips should now be about six inches in front of your knees.
- Keep your elbows locked out straight, and allow your shoulder blades to collapse together.
- Let your head hang, relax your stomach, and allow your low back to arch.
- Hold for 2 minutes, and don’t let your elbows bend.
6. Static Wall Exercise
This exercise releases tight muscles in your thoracic spine, your neck, and the muscles in your lower legs. (leg cramps, anyone?)
- Lie on the floor and scoot all the way into the wall with your legs straight up it.
- If you are stiff in your hamstrings, scoot back until your tailbone rests flat on the floor.
- Pull your toes back and tighten your thighs.
- It is important for your feet to be hip-width apart and pointing straight out from the wall.
- Hold this position for 3 minutes.
7. Sitting Floor Exercise
Like the static wall exercise, this stretch uses a wall to force your upper body into a proper posture. It may hurt a little, but it’s worth it. Everything you start to slouch, do this exercise, standing or sitting down to get back into your natural posture.
- Sit on the floor with your back up against the wall and your feet hip-width apart. Your head should be touching the wall.
- Pull your shoulder blades together and down, tighten your thighs, and pull your toes back. Be sure that your feet stay straight.
- Hold for 3 minutes.
8. Frog Exercise
This simple stretch will also loosen up tight shoulders and thighs. It’ll feel a little silly, but it works!
- Lie on the floor with your feet together and your knees apart. Use a rolled-up towel to support your neck if necessary.
- Have your palms up on the floor at 45 degrees to your body.
- Just hang out here and relax for 2 minutes. Your lower back will naturally arch off the floor, and you should allow that to happen.
9. Corner Stretch
This basic exercise is perfect for stretching out the tight chest and shoulder muscles that might be pulling on your neck muscles or causing shoulder pain. You can do it up to 3-5 times a day before starting your neck-strengthening exercises.
- Stand approximately two feet back from the corner, facing into the corner with your feet together.
- Place your forearms on each wall, with your elbows slightly below shoulder height.
- Lean in as far as possible without experiencing pain.
- Hold the stretch for about 30 seconds to a minute.
10. Levator Scapula Stretch
This stretch is perfect to loosen up the muscle near your shoulder blades that tend to get tender and tight. You can do while standing or sitting.
- Raise your elbow above your shoulder on the side to stretch.
- In this position, rest your elbow against a doorframe. This rotates the outside of shoulder blade up and the inside of it down, which lengthens the levator scapula muscle.
- Second, turn your head away from the side that is stretching and bring the chin down, stretching the back of the neck.
- Third, place the fingers of your other hand on the top of your head and gently pull your head forward increasing the stretch slightly.
- Hold this for about 30 seconds to a minute.
11. Chin Tuck
This exercise stretches out sore neck muscles while also strengthening the muscles that keep your shoulders in line with your neck. It’s also great for maintaining a good posture.
- Keeping your spine against the doorframe, pull your upper back and head back until the back of your head touches the doorframe. Make sure to keep your chin tucked in.
- Hold your head in this position for 5 seconds.
- Repeat this ten times.
- Stand or sit down and repeat the exercise without support. Repeat 10 times.
- Do this exercise 7-10 times day, as needed.
12. Prone Cobra
This yoga pose is great for strengthening your neck, and upper back and shoulders. You might want to do it on a yoga mat to be more comfortable.
- Lying face down, place your forehead on a rolled up hand towel for comfort.
- Place your arms at the side, palms down on the floor.
- Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth to stabilize the muscles in the front of your neck.
- Pinch your shoulder blades together and lift your hands off the floor.
- Roll your elbows in, palms out and thumbs up.
- Gently lift your forehead about an inch off the towel keeping your gaze straight at the floor.
- Hold the position for 10 seconds.
- Perform 10 repetitions.
13. Back Burn
This posture exercise requires that you stand with your back against the wall. Keep your feet 4 inches away from the wall.
- Pull your upper back and head back until the back of your head touches the doorframe. Make sure to keep your chin tucked in.
- Try to flatten your lower back against the wall.
- Place your elbows, forearms and the backs of the hands and fingers on the wall with your wrists about shoulder height.
- Keeping your arms, hands, head and fingers all touching the wall as best possible, slowly slide your hands up above the head and slowly back down.
- Repeat this 10 times, 3 to 5 times per day.
14. Stimulate Your Trigger Points
It can be difficult to reach all the muscle knots in your neck, shoulder, and upper back. Use a 6-inch foam roller to reach all those tricky spots.
Here’s how to do it:
- Place the foam roll on the ground.
- Lie on it lengthwise.
- Place the hands on the hips.
- Roll slowly sideways keeping the torso parallel to the ground until the foam roller rolls over the scapular muscles where the sore trigger points are.
- Slowly roll 20 times to each side.
15. Adjust your Sleeping Position
Sleeping on your stomach may be more comfortable for some people, but it has its risks. Instead, it’s best to sleep on your side or on your back. That’s because sleeping on your stomach forces you to twist your neck to the side for hours at a time. It also causes your stomach to sink into the mattress, leading to low back pain.
16. Change Your Bed
Sleeping on a firm mattress helps keep your spine properly aligned throughout the night. This prevents morning neck pain.
Side sleeper? If you have wide shoulders and sleep on your side, you might also want to invest in a new, firmer pillow to keep your neck in a neutral position.
17. Make Your Own Warming Lotion
For all-natural pain relief on-the-go, combine 2 tablespoons of cayenne pepper with 1 cup of olive oil into a thick paste. Apply to your sore neck twice a day when the pain hits.
You can also make a salve out of coconut oil and peppermint oil, if preferred. The right essential oils will work wonders on chronic pain without the side effects of muscle relaxers or narcotics medication.
18. Apply A Warm Compress
As you strengthen your neck muscles, there are a few things you can do to minimize pain as your muscles get stronger. Heat therapy is a simple and effective way to improve blood flow.
For one, apply a heating pad prior to exercise to warm up stiff muscles and joints and apply a cold pack after exercise to reduce inflammation. Plus, when you experience chronic neck pain, find relief by applying heat or cold as needed. Hot water running over your neck while you shower can also help.
19. Ask for a Hand
If you can’t reach your own sore muscles and the foam roller isn’t cutting it for you- ask for help! Get your partner or family member to loosen up your knots or book a gentle massage appointment at your local spa. You may also consider chiropractic care in addition to hot compresses and essential oils as part of a healthy living regimen.
20. Low-Impact Aerobic Exercise
Stretching is important, and neck-specific exercises have their merit too, but regular exercise is important. Physical activity promotes digestive health as well. Staying fit by walking and swimming releases muscle tension throughout your body while also circulating oxygen and nutrients. What’s not to like about that?
21. Physical Therapy
The vertebrae of the neck are influenced by so many different muscle groups (such as the back, shoulder, chest, and neck), so it helps to get support from someone who knows your anatomy. A physical therapist can also give you an official diagnosis and make sure you have proper form during stretching and exercise.
Shoulder and neck pain is common for most of us, but it doesn’t have to be! Follow the 21 stiff remedies above to heal your pain on the spot and prevent it before it starts. After all, natural ways to relieve pain should always be your first option.
While you do so, take the time to relax in a hot bath (perhaps with epsom salt and lavender essential oils) and stretch throughout the day to keep your neck and shoulders loose.