Neck Pain – Home Treatment

Home Treatment Page

The goals of self-care are to relieve pain, promote healing and avoid re-injury. Home Treatments Includes:

  • Ice pack or cold massage applied to the neck and upper shoulder  for 15-20 minutes three or four times a day / up to once an hour. Cold decreases inflammation, swelling and pain.  Ice is used for :
    • ACUTE PAIN (Acute -sudden onset of pain).  Ice is always used following trauma such as a car accident or cases of severe neck pain x 2-3 days.
    • NEUROLOGICAL ARM PAIN  may benefit from ice x several weeks.  This type of pain is described as deep ache, numbness, tingling or feelings of weakness in the arm and is usually associated with neck pain.  (Ice is used on the neck not the arm as the neck is the source of this type of arm pain.)
  • REST by using a  neck collar and or avoiding activities that increase pain.   
  • Heat applied for 15 -20 minutes while resting in a comfortable position with heating pad or hot water bottle for neck tension  – low grade ache.  This is best for long term chronic, (Chronic= slow onset(over months or years) or low grade pain dull ache). conditions.  Use caution with heat as this can increase swelling and cause increased pain. If you are not getting relief with heat you may respond better to ice.  
  • Use a cervical pillow.  If you don’t have a cervical pillow use a feather pillow with a small towel roll tucked in to support your neck. Everyone is different if you have a “good” pillow you will feel better after resting.  If you have a “bad” pillow you will feel worse after resting.

  • Use of a collar. – A soft collar can help to rest your neck.  This should be used for short periods .(Not more than an hour at a time.  – take it off after the first fifteen minutes to be sure it does not increase your pain –  If you need the collar for more then a few days you should see a health care professional)
  • Learn stress reduction techniques to reduce muscle tension.
  • Take breaks avoid standing or sitting for long periods.
  • Sit or lie in positions that are most comfortable and that reduce your pain, it is especially important to ease neurological arm or hand pain.
  • Do not sit propped up in bed, and avoid soft couches.  Be sure all monitors and TV screens are straight ahead to avoid twisting the neck.  Avoid any position that worsen your symptoms.
  • Bed rest can help relieve neck pain but may not speed healing. Stick with what makes you feel better. One to three days of rest should ease the symptoms.  If symptoms persist see a medical professional.

Postures For Acute Pain Relief

  • Lie on your back with  a soft(feather) pillow and a small towel roll under your neck with your knees bent and supported by large pillows.
  • Lie on your side with a soft (feather) pillow and a small towel roll under your neck.
  • When you sit, add pillows so you can rest your head back comfortably and place a pillow under your arms.
  • How big should the pillow be? Exactly where do I put the pillow?  Use what gives you the best pain relief ( we are all a little different).
  • Good posture means ear, shoulder & hip are in a straight line – this is the same for standing, sitting & lying down.

Which exercises are for you? – It is best to start with simple stretches.  See our neck stretch page for some ideas.

  • Discontinue any exercises that increase pain or that causes pain to move towards the hand (i.e.: pain moves from the shoulder to arm or arm to hand).
  • Gradually increase frequency and repetition of any exercise that helps you feel better.

Exercises To Avoid

Many common exercises actually increase the risk of low neck pain. Avoid the following:

  • neck circles.
  • bending neck forward or looking up.

First Aid For Neck Pain

stop any exercise or treatment that increases your pain. When you first feel a catch or strain in you neck, try these steps to avoid or reduce expected pain. These are the most important home treatments for the first few days of neck pain.

First aid # 1 ICE As soon as possible, apply an ice pack to the injured area. (10-15 minutes every hour). Cold limits swelling, reduces pain and speeds healing.

First aid # 2 MEDICATION Some medications are available without a prescription.  If the non-prescription dose does not relieve your pain CALL YOUR DOCTOR.  Take aspirin or ibuprofen regularly as directed on the bottle (call your doctor if you’ve been told to avoid anti-inflammatory medication). Acetaminophen (Tylenol) may also be used. Take these medications sensibly;  never exceed the dosage suggested on the bottle, the maximum recommended dose will reduce the pain. Masking the pain completely might allow movement that could lead to re-injury.

First aid # 3 CHANGE POSITION FREQUENTLY  Take the time to add a small pillow or towel roll to support your head/neck when you are sitting or lying down.  DON’T STAY IN ANY POSITION THAT INCREASES YOUR PAIN.

First aid # 4 RELAX YOUR MUSCLES Listen to soft music – Practice deep breathing – try one of the commercially available relaxation tapes.

First aid # 5 USE A COLLAR  A soft collar can help to rest your neck.  This should be used for short periods .(Not more than an hour at a time.  – take it off after the first fifteen minutes to be sure it does not increase your pain –  Not more than a few days.)

First aid # 6 STRETCHES  – click here for the stretching page.
Do the first aid exercises three to four times a day .

After two or three days of home treatment:

  • When your pain is gone slowly resume normal activities.  Continue to use caution with lifting, bending, sitting & sports for 6 – 8 weeks, after the pain is gone, to allow the neck to heal.  If you have a regular exercise program begin easy exercises that do not increase your pain. Start with  2-5 repetitions twice a day and increase to 10 as you are able.


  • Try to continue with daily work or school schedules to the extent possible. Use care in resuming normal activities.  Stop activities that cause increased pain.
  • A gradual stretching/strenghtening  program can help reduce pain. (Use caution  – sometimes you don’t feel pain until the day after you exercise.)
  • Physical therapy is indicated for Acute ( severe ) pain that does not respond to bed rest or for Chronic ( less severe, but lingers over several weeks/months years) pain.  Physical therapy can be prescribed by your doctor and is generally covered by insurance.  A physical therapist is licensed to treat you without a doctor’s prescription but in many cases he/she may advise you to see a M.D. to rule out a more serious problem.  Generally, physical therapists and M.D.’s work together to provide you with the best care.
  • Avoid strenuous activity for 6-8 weeks.
  • After healing, continued use of good body mechanics (good posture with sitting, standing, bending, driving and resting) can prevent future problems.  A physical therapist can instruct you in a basic program of back care including maintenance exercises and a first aid program to prevent a minor injury from becoming a major injury.

POSITIONS TO AVOID Many common activities actually increase the risk of neck pain. Avoid the following:             

  • Sleeping/resting on the couch with your head on the arm rest.
  • Falling asleep in your chair or in your car without support for your head.
  • Avoid looking down (working at a desk) or looking up (painting a ceiling, looking at something on a high shelf.) for prolonged periods.

Possible Complications

Chronic neck pain and restricted lifestyle.





  • You have mild,  neck pain that persists for 3 or 4 days after self-treatment .
  • Neck pain or arm pain is severe.
  • Neck pain or neck and arm pain that goes away for short periods but keeps coming back.
  • New or unexplained symptoms appear.
  • Physical therapy should be prescribed when you have been treated by your M.D. but pain  persists beyond 1-2 weeks or if you have had multiple episodes of pain over the past year.

Probable Outcome

Gradual recovery, but back troubles tend to recur.  A home program can prevent continued neck problems.

Physical therapy can help you prevent long term problems.

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