What to do when you have an acute attack of neck pain.

1.Some people find cold packs can reduce how sensitive the area is and allow the muscle to relax. Alternatively, you may use some heat on the neck and shoulder muscles to help them relax eg hot water bottle, hot pack or shower. Often it is easiest to apply something for 10 minutes every hour but you can leave things on your neck for 20-30 minutes as long as you let the neck return to normal temperature before repeating the treatment again. Be careful if you have sensitive skin not to get a either a heat or cold burn.

2.Lie down flat and REST as much as possible for the first 24-48 hours while the pain and stiffness is very bad. This too will allow the muscles to relax and so ease the pain.

3.A temporary collar may be needed for a short period of time. Usually for the first 24-48hours. This again will rest the neck muscles and allow them to relax.

If your neck isn’t feeling too sore you can try to regularly remove the collar and gently move your neck to try to prevent things stiffening up too much.

Here is an easy way to make a temporary collar.:

Take a pillow case, fold it in half length wise
Next fold that three times so you end up with a pillow case that is
one sixth normal width.
Wrap this folded pillowcase around your neck and then tape in place.
You can wear this while up or sleep with it on.

4.The type and number of pillows you use can have quite an effect on the amount of pain you will have. Usually it’s best to sleep with a lower pillow but you may need to start with a couple and work your way down to a thin pillow over a day or two Some pillows, particularly foam ones, will compress and flatten while you are sleeping. . If you end up with your head tilted all night it can really irritate things. Which ever type of pillow you have, you can modify the pillow to make sleeping easier:

Take a towel and fold it to make a 2-4 cm pad.

Stick this in your pillow case under the pillow and it will stop your head from tilting over into a painful position while you sleep.

You can also take a small towel and roll it up and put this in the leading edge of the pillowcase to support the curve of your neck.

5.If you can’t tolerate something around your neck then an alternative it to use a sandbag. You can put a sandbag (or equivalent) beside your head when you are lying on your back so that you can’t turn your head in the most painful direction.

6.When you lie down the weight of your legs will pull on your spine whether on your back or on your side. You can sleep with 1-2 pillows between/under your knees to stop your spine being pulled sideways while you sleep.

7.All of these measures can be useful during the initial attack of neck pain and may get you to the point where you can progress further with self treatment or to the point where you can tolerate being treated by a professional. After numerous years of contact sports (including wrestling/rugby/judo) as well as numerous car accidents (I was driven into 5 times in the first 5 years here in the UK!) I can tell you from personal experience that these methods can be effective.  I know that there are many approaches to dealing with neck pain and I am sure that some of what I have said will be a bit controversial.  Tell me your thoughts or suggestions. I am always happy to hear of ways to improve what I have to offer my patients.

I hope this information is helpful for you.




19 thoughts on “What to do when you have an acute attack of neck pain.

    • There are several petnotial factors. If you sleep on your side, but you curl your head forward, chin to chest, you put stress on your neck and shoulder muscles. You may need to try sleeping on your back (put another pillow behind your knees if you do so to keep stress off the lower back). If your pillow doesn’t work in this position, try a rolled up bath towel.I have experienced the same symptoms for several years. I have memory foam pillows and a “chiroflow” pillow that has water in it. I find that I have to switch them out sometimes to help me not tense up. I am a side-sleeper and sleep with a body pillow-between the knees with my upper shoulder sortof draped across. This position also seems to help.Lastly, I recommend doing some easy stretching exercises before sleeping. I have found that if I stretch or do some simple yoga before bed I am more relaxed, get to sleep sooner, sleep better, and wake up with less tension. My preference is the Yoga am/pm dvd. It has a couple of short routines that are great. The “morning” section is gentle enough that it will help me recover when I awaken with a headache.

    • I got rid of mine once I got the problem casunig the pain taken care of. You have pinched or tight muscles in your neck and no matter what you sleep on until they are released they are going to be painful. Once released you will be able to sleep on anything, I know I have and it no longer bothers me. Here is how to release the muscles in your neck to get rid of the pain:NeckPut your hands alongside your head so your thumbs are on the front of the muscle under your ear and your fingers are on the back of the muscle behind your head. Squeeze your thumb and fingers together and hold. Relax your body. After 45 seconds, slowly lower your head as far as you can, release the pressure but hold your neck lowered for another 30 seconds.With your neck in the lowered position, replace your thumbs in under the ears and your fingers behind your head but right next to your skull this time. Press your fingers and thumbs together again and hold. Relax your body while waiting. When the muscles have all released, slowly lift your head until it’s level again, release the pressure but hold your head like that for another 30 seconds.

      • Memory foam that has the support for your neck and head are best I’ve seen from ecxerienpe> I would check those out and if that specifies it helps your neck to ling up best I’d try using that then.They sell them at many stores, from a big lots to a walmart. Look in the bedding/houseware section.

  1. Very useful information. Thank you.Is it alright to follow the 4th tip ater the pain ceases for those suffering from osteo arteritis in the neck?

    • It would not be unreasonable to use support in your pillow if a person has an osteo-arthritic neck. There are, as in most things, some considerations. Having ”osteo-arthritis” (OA) does not mean that it is necessarily the cause of your symptoms (see my post ‘be careful what you wish for’). As a general rule you can pad your pillow to provide enough support so that you get a good nights sleep and you aren’t stiff when you wake up in the morning. If you have a history of OA you might find that when the acute pain has stopped you are quite stiff and need to stretch your neck out again. As you do stretching and strengthening exercises to help your neck you might have to adjust the padding as your movement improves. Everyone is a bit different but usually 1 medium pillow with appropriate padding works for a lot of neck pain suffers.

      I hope this makes sense. If you need any further clarification be sure to ask.


      • the pillow might be a spceial pillow but it might not be for your line up of your spin try sleeping with your spceial pillow and then another one under your knees that might help or it might even be your mattress try a pillow top mattress it worked for me

    • The pillow might help but inevsrion therapy will work better for spinal alignment. Inversion therapy uses the effects of gravity to weight down your spine and stretch it out. As this happens your spine is allowed to decompress and as that happens it relieves the pinched nerves in your spine. Inversion therapy causes your muscles of your core (the hips, thighs, buttocks, back muscles and most importantly the stomach muscles) to stretch out. As they stretch the knots and spasms leave and when these muscles are all relaxed they loosen their grip on your lower back muscles, your spine and most importantly your neck and pelvis, allowing them to go back into natural alignment. As they align this will cause your sciatica to vanish. It’s like if your car is out of alignment it pulls to one side and screws up the tires, it’s the same with your back. Inversion therapy will help align your spine much quicker than some pillow while you’re laying on your back. Hope this helps.

      • Thanks a lot for contributing! You make some good points but there are things to consider. Some people have vascular problems that are made much worse by inversion therapy and not everyone feels brave enough to perform this type of treatment on their own. Sometimes, depending on your age and the reason for an attack, just giving the body a chance to rest and recover does more than any ”treatment”. It all depends on what has happened.. not everyone has something that is pulled out of alignment and, something else to consider, often muscles cramping and holding your body in one position is the way your body goes about protecting an injury from being made worse or more sensitive. Hope that makes sense. Thanks again, love getting a chance to learn from other people’s experiences!!

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