Neck Strain: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Exercises

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Neck StrainWe’ve all gotten it from time to time. Neck strain. Whether it be from a movement that has strained the muscles in the neck, or from something unfortunate like a car accident or bad posture, neck strain is a more common problem than you might think.

In this article, we will explore what causes neck strain. We will look at its symptoms, neck strain treatment, neck strain exercises, and everything you need to know about neck strain. Hopefully, by the end of this piece, you will be able to identify neck strain, and then be able to take care of it.

Neck Strain Causes

Neck strain is very common and can be caused by a number of things. Some of these may surprise you, because a lot of the time, it’s something you may do every day that is straining your neck. These are some of the more common causes.

1. Bad Posture

One of the prime causes of neck strain is bad posture. This could be just how you may be sitting, relaxing, or it could be due to an unergonomic office situation, like hunching over a computer at an odd angle.

2. Sleep Position

Your neck can be strained due to how you sleep. It can be due to your pillow size or thickness, or maybe while sleeping, you may move into a position that causes neck strain.

3. Heavy Weight

You can cause neck strain by carrying and moving things that have some or a lot of weight to them. Carrying a heavy bag on one side of the body, for instance, can create neck strain.

4. Trauma

Neck strain can be caused by trauma to the neck. Things like car accidents or an accident where you fall on your head can cause neck damage.

While there are plenty of other causes of neck strain, the above causes tend to be the most common. But how can you tell if it’s neck strain or something else?

Neck Strain Symptoms

So, you think that you may have neck strain but you aren’t quite sure. The best way to identify neck strain (outside of going to a doctor) is to check if you have neck strain symptoms.

1. Decreased Motion

If you find that you’re having a hard time moving your head and neck with a bit of pain. The muscles on your neck may feel tight and have knots as well.

2. Headaches

Headaches that originate at the base of your skull and seem to go straight up into the forehead are usually a sign of a stiff neck.

3. Pain

There be pain of various types all centered around neck movement. If you find you have pain and stiffness moving your head side to side, or if you have a hard time rolling your head around your neck.

If you have these symptoms, you may have a strained neck. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to try and help relieve the strain.

Neck Strain Treatments

The good thing about neck strain is that there are many treatments that you can do at home. If you are at all concerned about what these treatments may do for you, or which one works for your particular strain, go see a doctor. In the meantime, you may find some of these neck strain remedies help, if not get rid of your neck strain.

1. Anti-Inflammatory

Anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen can help reduce the pain and swelling in your neck muscles. This can ultimately help loosen them and reduce or remove the strain.

2. Ergonomic Workspace

If you find that you are getting the neck strain from sitting at your desk at work, it would be worth investigation how you can make your workspace more ergonomic.

3. Ice

A tried and tested method of helping all muscle strains, use an ice pack or cold compress. This can help the swelling and pain of a strained neck. Apply the ice pack onto the neck for about 10 to 20 minutes, twice a day for relief.

4. Heat

The second most well-known treatment for muscle strains, heat can help bring oxygen-rich blood to help stimulate healing. This can be done by using a heating pad, or even a hot shower may do the trick.

Other treatments like massage may work as well, but you may want to be careful that the massage doesn’t cause more damage.

Neck Strain Exercises

In addition to the treatment methods we previously mentioned, there are also a number of stretches that you can do, in order to help free your stiff and strained neck. These stretches can help you when you have neck strain, but also help prevent it. If you have pain that extends from your neck into your arms, do these exercises.

1. Active Neck Rotation

While sitting in a chair, keep your neck, shoulders, and trunk straight. Begin to turn your head slowly to the right, until it starts to hurt. Return your head to the forward position. Relax. Then turn it to the left. Repeat in each direction 10 times.

2. Isometric Neck Flexion

Sit in a chair, straight and tall with your eyes straight. Place the palm of your hand to your forehead. Begin to gently push your forehead into the palm of your hand. Hold for 5 seconds and release. Works best if you do it in three sets of five.

3. Neck Extension

Sitting up straight in a chair, look straight ahead. Begin to tilt your head back slowly, so that your chin will point towards the sky. Slowly, bring your head back to the starting position. Keep your neck and shoulders straight during this exercise. Repeat 10 times.

4. Scapular Squeeze

Stand or sit with your arms by your sides. Begin to squeeze your shoulder blades together, and hold for five seconds before releasing. Aim to do two sets of 15.

These are just a few of the exercises that you can do to help your neck strain, or possibly even prevent it.

Neck Strain Can Be a Pain, but It Doesn’t Have to Be

Neck strain can suck the life out of your day. You don’t realize how much your neck moves until the day it starts hurting. It can cause neck strain headaches. Hopefully, you’ve now learned how to identify neck strains, how to fix a strained neck, and what you can do to prevent one.

Schubbe, P., “Neck Strain: Causes and Remedies,” Spine Health, July 6, 2010;
“Neck Strain and Whiplash,” Web MD, July 30, 2016;
“Do You Have a Stiff Neck? Try These Simple Remedies,” Cleveland Clinic, May 18, 2015;
“Neck Strain Exercises,” Summit Medical Group, 2014;