Neck and shoulder pain can be debilitating and extremely uncomfortable. It is estimated that 35 percent to 50 percent of adults are affected by this condition in some way. Neck and shoulder pain can be caused by anything from overuse, poor posture, and stress—to more serious underlying medical issues such as arthritis and herniated discs.
While it’s always best to consult a doctor or physical therapist if you are experiencing severe or frequent pain, there are several home remedies that may help to reduce neck and shoulder discomfort.
Ideally, implementing lifestyle changes such as improved posture, relaxation techniques, and regular exercise can help alleviate neck and shoulder pain. However, massage therapy, heating pads or ice packs (depending on the area of the body being treated), muscle stretches, yoga poses for neck pain relief—and a variety of other treatments—are all potential options for gaining relief from neck and shoulder pain.
It is important to ensure that you are taking proper precautions when using at-home treatments for neck or shoulder issues to avoid further injury or causing any deeper medical problems. To find out more about effective home remedies for neck and shoulder discomfort, read on to review a variety of low-cost solutions utilized by many individuals with similar issues.
Causes of Neck and Shoulder Pain
Neck and shoulder pain is a very common complaint and can be caused by a variety of factors. While many cases are caused by disease or injury, some may be the result of poor posture, improper body mechanics, or inadequate conditioning. Neck and shoulder pain can also arise from stress or muscle tension.
- Overuse injuries – such as prolonged tension in the neck muscles from bad posture, extended computer use, incorrect sleeping positions, or holding the phone between your shoulder and ear for protracted periods of time.
- Trauma – such as whiplash from car accidents, falls, contact sports injuries, etc.
- Cervical disc herniation – when one of the spinal discs in your neck is ruptured or becomes damaged due to age-related deterioration.
- Pinched nerve – typically caused by a bulging or herniated disc in your spine that pushes against a nerve root leading to tingling sensations in your shoulder blades and arms.
- Arthritis-specific osteoarthritis in the neck can stiffen joints leading to swelling around them resulting in neck and shoulder aches akin to bursitis.
- Strain-pulled muscles due to lifting heavy objects can lead to inflammation of tendons which could affect several parts of the body including surrounding muscles in your shoulders and back.
Neck and shoulder pain can be both uncomfortable and debilitating, making it hard to even sit or stand for long periods of time. However, you don’t have to rely on medication to alleviate the pain. There is a wide range of home remedies that can help soothe and relieve neck and shoulder pain.
In this article, we’ll go over some of the most popular home remedies for neck and shoulder pain:
Stretches and Exercises
Stretching and exercising the neck and shoulder muscles can be beneficial in the relief of pain and discomfort. Stretches can help improve posture, reduce tension, and increase flexibility in the area. It’s important to remember to not overstretch and to stop when feeling pain or dizziness.
Neck Roll: To maintain a neutral posture throughout the exercise, gently lower your head to one side like you’re trying to touch your ear lobe to your shoulder. Hold for a few seconds before slowly rolling your head back up and then down on the opposite side. Do this 10-15 times slowly, taking care not to strain or overexert yourself.
Shoulders: With feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, place a rolled-up towel behind your back as support for arms. Reach arms out straight towards the ceiling with thumbs pointed upwards. Gently pull shoulders away from ears in an effort to create more space between them. Draw shoulder blades together by depressing (or pressing down) while keeping the chest elevated with no slouching of the spine; hold this position for 30-60 seconds if comfortable then release remaining aware of how much range of motion is achieved before attempting again. Repeat 4-5 times total if possible, relaxing between each repetition with arm drops at the sides or by folding forward into Child’s Pose as desired or useful.
Hot and Cold Therapy
Hot and Cold Therapy can be effective in providing relief from neck and shoulder pain. From temporary relief to long-term healing, incorporating hot and cold treatments into your home remedy plan for neck and shoulder pain can create a new level of comfort for you.
Beginning with the use of cold therapy, using a cool, damp cloth or ice pack on the affected area can help to reduce inflammation. Applying cold treatment several times a day for 10-15 minute intervals can be beneficial, especially during the acute stage of injury.
Heat therapy is important to also incorporate in a home remedy plan as it promotes relaxation while increasing flexibility in the muscles around the neck and shoulders. Applying a heating pad gently across the sore muscle for about 10 minutes at a time may get rid of some of that tension that has been felt in those areas due to strain or injury.
It is wise to combine both hot and cold therapies throughout your at-home treatment plan since individual differences may affect how they work best together, especially when dealing with neck and shoulder pain. If either treatment doesn’t seem to provide any relief after one or two days then you should consider seeing a doctor, as the cause might be something more significant than sore muscles or strained tendons.
Massaging the neck and shoulders can be an effective home remedy to reduce tension and ease the pain. Massaging the muscles of the neck can help improve blood circulation, reduce discomfort, and relax muscles that are tight. It is advised to use light pressure when massaging this area. If a person has acute pain, it may be best for them to seek professional advice from a doctor or massage therapist.
When self-massaging, it is important to focus on working one area at a time before moving to another spot; several massage techniques may be used including squeezing, pulled kneading, and rolling out the muscle. The reflex point from the head and taping behind the ear can also help relieve neck tension or spasms. Applying heat in combination with massage can further improve circulation in this section of the body.
The back of the neck holds many of our emotions, so relaxation is integral when diminishing any anxiety or stress often associated with pain in this region. Applying long strokes up and down either side of the spine helps release patterns of deep-seated anxiety in our bodies so we can feel more present in our physical form.
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese form of therapy that has been used for centuries to provide relief from numerous ailments, including pain. In acupuncture, thin needles are inserted into specific points on the body known as acupuncture points or acupoints. These acupoints are connected to energy pathways throughout the body, which may be disrupted by lifestyle choices, illness, or injury. By stimulating the targeted acupoints, acupuncture helps to open and restore the flow of energy so that balance can be restored and pain alleviated. It may also help relax tense muscles and reduce inflammation.
Studies have shown that acupuncture can be effective in providing relief from neck and shoulder pain caused by poor posture or due to an injury or medical condition such as arthritis. It may also help improve flexibility and reduce stiffness in these areas of the body. Most people find it helpful to receive multiple treatments over a course of a few weeks for the best results; however, some individuals feel relief after just one session.
Herbal remedies have long been used to help relieve muscle soreness and stiffness caused by neck and shoulder pain. Some herbs are thought to be beneficial for providing temporary relief from pain. Here are some herbal remedies that you may want to consider:
- Chamomile: A tea brewed with chamomile is believed to reduce inflammation, helping to provide relief from muscle tension caused by neck and shoulder pain.
- Cayenne pepper: Cayenne pepper contains capsaicin, which is thought to relieve pain. You can add a tablespoon of cayenne pepper powder to a tablespoon of sesame oil, apply it on the affected areas of your body and gently massage your neck and shoulders with it.
- Ginger: Ginger is said to reduce swelling related to muscle pain. It can be taken as tea or you can prepare a ginger paste with ginger root by grinding it in a mortar and pestle, then adding olive oil for consistency. Make sure the paste is at room temperature when being applied directly on the affected area gently for about 20 minutes at a time.
- Lavender oil: Lavender oil is believed to help relax tight muscles as well as increase blood circulation in your body which will help decrease tension in the neck and shoulder area. Simply add 2 drops of lavender oil into 1 teaspoon of almond or sesame oil, heat it up slightly till warm, then massage into your skin gently for about 5 minutes each time or until you feel some relief from the pain you experiencing from your neck and shoulder area.
When to Seek Medical Attention
Neck and shoulder discomfort is common, but when should you seek professional help from a doctor or physical therapist? Generally speaking, if your neck or shoulder pain is causing interference with your daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or completing everyday tasks, it’s a good idea to consult a healthcare provider. In addition to interfering with physical activities, there are a few other signs that you may need medical attention.
If you experience any of the following symptoms with your neck or shoulders pain, see a medical professional right away:
- Pain that persists despite home remedies and other lifestyle modifications
- Abnormal tingling or numbness in any area of the body
- Weakness in the arms or hands
- Unexplained weight loss
- Difficulty breathing
- Significant swelling around the painful area
Other cases where medical attention should be sought include pain that is so severe it keeps you from sleeping more than an hour at a time; intense burning sensations; and persistent headaches. Generally, if after trying home remedies for over two weeks you still have not seen significant improvement in your condition it’s best to seek assistance from a physician.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Rest: Resting your neck and shoulder muscles can help reduce pain and inflammation. Avoid strenuous activities and activities that put a strain on the neck and shoulder area.
- Ice/Heat: Apply an ice pack to the affected area for 15 minutes at a time, several times a day, to reduce inflammation and pain. After a few days, you can try a heating pad or warm compress to relax the muscles.
- Over-the-counter pain relievers: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen can help relieve pain and inflammation.
- Physical therapy: A physical therapist can teach you exercises to help strengthen the muscles in the neck and shoulder area and improve posture.
- Massage: Massage can help relax the muscles and reduce tension, which can relieve pain.
- Chiropractic care: Chiropractors can help align the spine and neck, which can reduce pain.
- Apply heat or cold: Applying heat or cold to the affected area of the neck can help to relieve pain and stiffness. Heat can be applied using a heating pad, hot water bottle, or warm compress. Cold can be applied using an ice pack, cold compress, or cold water bottle.
- Over-the-counter pain relievers: Over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help relieve neck pain.
- Gentle stretching: Gentle stretching can help to alleviate stiffness and tension in the neck muscles.
- Massage: Massage can help to relieve muscle tension and pain.
- Good posture: Maintaining a good posture while sitting, standing, and sleeping can help to reduce neck pain.
- Improve sleeping habits: Making sure to sleep in a comfortable position can help to reduce neck pain.
- Exercise: Regular exercise can help to strengthen the muscles in the neck and reduce stiffness and pain.
- Acupuncture: Acupuncture may be beneficial for reducing neck pain.
- Use heat and ice therapy: Heat can help to relax sore muscles, while cold therapy can reduce inflammation. Alternate between the two to reduce shoulder pain.
- Stretch and strengthen the shoulder muscles: Gentle shoulder stretches can help to reduce tension while strengthening exercises can help stabilize the shoulder joint and reduce pain.
- Try massage therapy: Massage can help relax the muscles and reduce inflammation.
- Take an anti-inflammatory medication: Over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen and naproxen can help reduce inflammation and reduce pain.
- See a doctor: If the pain does not improve within a few days, or if it is accompanied by other symptoms such as numbness or tingling, it is important to seek medical attention.
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As we have seen, there are several home remedies for neck and shoulder pain that may help to reduce symptoms. However, it is important to note that individual circumstances may require treatment beyond these treatments. Therefore, it is always important to seek advice from a qualified healthcare provider before beginning any type of self-treatment program.
Consider trying simple exercises such as shoulder rolls, stretching, and restorative postures before attempting more aggressive treatments such as massage or chiropractic manipulation. Acupuncture, lifestyle modifications, over-the-counter medications, and herbal remedies may also provide relief in more serious cases of neck and shoulder pain.
Remember that your best defense against pain is proactive prevention – exercise regularly and practice ergonomic techniques when working or engaging in activities that require repetitive movement patterns.
Brent Stephens is a neck pain researcher and a medical professional who studies the causes, treatments, and prevention of neck pain. He may conduct clinical trials, review medical literature, and collaborate with other researchers to better understand this common condition and develop effective solutions for those who suffer from it. Through his work, he aims to improve the quality of life for individuals who are dealing with neck pain and to help prevent the condition from occurring in the first place.