Life has its ups and downs, and one of the downs can be a pain in the neck. It can come from something as simple as a violent sneeze, falling asleep in an uncomfortable position or, most commonly, a long day at your computer.

Most of the time, symptoms are temporary and can be treated with medications, stretching techniques and physical therapy. For minor neck pain, over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol), intermittent heat and ice on the painful area and range-of-motion stretching can help ease the pain.

If neck pain continues or gets worse, there may be a specific reason or condition causing it that may require a visit to the doctor and some additional treatment. Conditions such as arthritis, a ruptured disk, sprains or pressure on the spinal cord and nerves can cause prolonged and chronic neck pain.

When to Call Your Doctor

It’s time to call your doctor if…

  • Symptoms persist beyond a week.
  • You have swollen glands or feel a lump in your neck.
  • You have difficulty swallowing.
  • Your pain worsens when you lie down or wakes you up at night.

Your doctor will ask you specific questions and perform a physical exam to evaluate your neck pain. Usually, neck pain will get better in four to six weeks with simple medications. If your doctor suspects you have a more serious condition, he or she may order an X-ray or MRI of the neck to evaluate the spinal anatomy and get a better understanding of the problem.

How to Prevent Neck Pain

Experiencing neck pain regularly? There are many ways you can proactively prevent neck pain – even as you work on your computer throughout the day. Here are some easy practices you can utilize for reducing that pesky pain in the neck:

  • Regular exercise and relaxation techniques can help reduce stress and tension to the neck muscles.
  • Good posture is key! Stand up straight and keep your shoulders back like a Marine at attention.
  • If you work at a computer, take frequent breaks and stretch your neck. Having a standing desk may provide some relief and posture variation throughout the day.
  • When reading or typing from documents at your desk, place them in a holder at eye level. Also ensure that your monitor height is properly adjusted to be at eye-level.
  • Be aware of how you use your phone. If you are often tucking your phone into your neck to talk hands-free, consider getting a Bluetooth headset for making calls. Answering emails on your cell phone frequently? Put the device at eye level to avoid craning your neck.

Concerned about persistent neck pain?

Consult a primary care provider near you.