September 24, 2009

Caring for a Sore Neck

Have you ever woken up with a sore neck?  Or have you ever had the experience of getting a sore neck during a long and trying day?  If so then I'm glad you have dropped by. :)

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know that I was in a car accident last year that left me with serious neck pains and the need for physical therapy the entire year. It was a particularly trying time in my life and there was even the possibility that I might never be able to play any instruments again. That was a devastating thought for me, being a musician and music professor.

But thankfully, God did not allow that to happen and through individuals he brought into my life I have learned how to overcome my physical pains and set-backs.  I want to share with all of you in this post some tips and tricks I learned that have been a huge help and relief.  And, if any of you know of things that I haven't mentioned please feel free to share them in your comments.

Okay.  The first thing that was terribly painful for me was sleeping.  After suffering from neck pain all day I would go to bed hoping to find some relief and rest.  But often I would wake up with more pain than when I went to sleep.  I quickly learned that my regular pillow was absolutely no help to me.

So Tip #1:   Find a pillow that is made to support the neck.

It would be best, according to my physical therapists, to buy a pillow that is contoured like the one below.  (this is my current pillow)

At first I tried sleeping with the larger hump under my neck but the excruciating pain would still greet me in the morning.  So I switched it to the smaller lump.  But after a week the pain returned.
By that point I was ready to pull my hair out.  I needed sleep!

Then, I found an answer from a man who also suffered a terrible car accident and discovered a way to use a pillow of this kind to his benefit.  I  cannot remember where on the internet I found this man's helpful comments.  It was in a random chat forum that was dated several years back.  But to who ever he is... thank you!

Here is what he shared.  Flip the pillow over so that it looks like a wedge with the smaller side under your neck.  Like this:

Believe-it-or-not this trick worked like magic.  I no longer suffer from debilitating neck pains in the morning or any time in the day!

Tip #2:   Always have a firm mattress.

Do not sleep on mattresses that are too soft!  They will worsen your condition.  And if you notice that there is a dip in your mattress, a body form, then its time to flip the mattress and rotate it so that the end is at the top and vice-a-versa.  You should be flipping and rotating your mattresses once every month to prevent dips and to maintain the firmness.

Also, if flipping and turning doesn't help it might be time to look into getting a new mattress.

Tip #3:  Avoid sitting on soft couches and/or chairs.

This was a difficult thing for me to change.  I love sitting on cushiony couches!  But I did suffer for it every night I did so.  Unfortunately, our entire spine is connected to our neck.  If your tailbone is not supported firmly, as when you sit on something firm, your neck will lack the support it needs.  And you can count on having a sore neck.

You need to be aware of how you sit and what you sit on.  My family and I have a soft, cuschiony couch but when I realized sitting, or reclining, on it made my neck worse I started sitting on the floor with my back against the couch.  Then we found wooden chairs that had comfortable backs and I started sitting on those.  It worked.

Tip #4:  Watch how you use your computer.

Okay, here's another habit change I had to make.  How I sat at the computer/ laptop.  I soon learned that I was sticking my neck out to be closer to the screen and that wasn't good for my neck either. So... when you work on your computer or laptop please be aware of how you are sitting.  Is the screen to low? Too high?  Do you need to lean forward?  Are you sticking your neck out to see more clearly?

Check to see that the font size of your screen is big enough for you to see comfortably from a normal sitting position.  Make sure the screen is bright enough for you to see clearly.  You should NEVER lean forward to see better.  Don't forget to adjust the height of the screen.

Tip #5:  Stretch.

During my physical therapy sessions the one thing they stressed over and over again was that I absolutely must stretch my neck muscles every day. Preferably when I get up in the mornings or during a hot shower.

In the following are some of the exercises I was given.  Now although I am sharing these with you, I feel it is important to stress that if you are suffering from extreme neck pain you should see a physical therapist before trying any exercises.  Better to be safe than sorry.

This exercise is called Cervical Flexion and you simply move your chin as far down as you can and then as high as you can.

This exercise is called Lateral Flexion and you should try to drop your ears towards your shoulders.

This final exercise is called Rotation of the Cervical Spine.  You turn your entire head to look over each shoulder without twisting your shoulders or back to do so.

Do each exercise very slowly and carefully.  Try to hold each position for about 10 seconds and repeat 5 times.  It helps to work in front of a mirror.

When I first started these it hurt.  My neck was so sore any motion caused me a lot of pain.  But as I continued to follow these stretches every day I began to experience less pain and more mobility.

Tip #6:  Use heating pads.

Occasionally I will still experience a sore neck, nothing quite as bad as last year, but enough to need attention.  When this happens I break out the heating pads.  There are many places online where you can buy them. Some pharmacies carry them as well.  The one I'm showcasing in the photo I found at JC Penny's.  It works just fine.  I recline on my bed with the heating pad between my neck and my pillow.

Be certain to follow the instructions to your particular heating pad exactly.  The last thing you need are burns!

Also, for all you ladies, I noticed that I am more prone to neck pain during that special time of the month. So be especially gentle with yourself during this time.

Tip #7: Get a neck and/or back massage.

Because I was in physical therapy getting massages for my neck, shoulders, and back was a given.  And they really helped relax all the tense muscles and tendons.  If you decide to get a massage please be certain you do so by someone who knows what they're doing.  This is especially true if you are already suffering from neck pain.

Massages are most helpful immediately after applying heat.  The person who gives you the massage, or if you do it yourself, should use cream or oil so that the skin is more malleable.

Tip #8: Take pain killers.

Now with this tip I add a word of caution.  NEVER take any medication that makes you drowsy when you have to drive.  Car accidents are not fun for anybody.

And I am not a doctor or pharmacist so please go to a professional before taking the advice of anyone else, myself included. I want you to get better not worse. :)

Most doctors will prescribe an N-SAID drug.  These include ibruprofen, advil, aspirin, etc.  If you have ever had stomach ulcers, or gastritis, or swollen feet DO NOT TAKE any N-SAID drugs.  They make these symptoms worse.  Instead, take Tylenol.  You can use extra strength if you need to.

 For me, Tylenol has been a wonderful help when I can't use a heating pad.  And on days when the pain is really bad I do both at once. Although whenever possible I try not to take any pain medication and use it only as a last resort if all else fails.

Tip #9: Be aware of repetitive motions.

This too was something I had to learn to be aware of.  As I mentioned before I am a musician so I naturally spend lots of time practicing.  I learned very quickly that I cannot practice for lengthy periods of time as I once could.  Now, whenever I feel strain or weariness I stop what I am doing and get up and stretch.

This is a good habit to develop even if you have never suffered serious injuries.  But when we are doing something we really enjoy; practicing instruments, playing sports, working in the garden, using the computer, we tend to ignore the signals our bodies give us for needing a break.

Pay attention to how you feel and take 30 to 40 minute breaks after every hour of non-stop work.  And for me, when I was just starting to get back into a routine, I had to take breaks every 15 minutes.  So do what you feel is best for yourself.

Tip #10: Find emotional support.

It doesn't matter if you are a man or a woman.  If you suffer from regular neck pain you are going to feel down at times.  Its natural.  Physical suffering can cause depression, anger, and irritability.  So, please take care of your emotional state as well.  If your frustrated talk to someone you can trust.  If you just need to cry, find a shoulder you can lean on.  And most importantly, find people who will pray for you.

During the worst months of my healing last year it was the prayers of all my family, friends, and co-workers that helped me get through.  I really wanted to just quite everything and give up. The pain was that bad.  But God is greater than our weaknesses and he never lets us go through more than we can bare.  He supported me and helped me stand up again.

Psalm 108:4 "For your steadfast love is higher than the heavens, and your faithfulness reaches to the clouds."

I hope that something in this post helps someone find relief.  God bless you and never give up hope!


BelovedBomber said...

Thanks for sharing. I had a neck injury four years ago on a four wheeler excursion my husband and I did in Mexico. I woke up the next day with a very swollen neck and a lot of dizziness. It has been four years, three long, intense rounds of physical therapy, four different chiropractors plus monthly massage. I actually am just experiencing relief this year but still struggle with activities like biking, pulling weeds or motions where left arm goes above head for long periods. I have tackled all that you suggested except the pillow thing. I had two pillows like that and couldn't get them to work without pain. I currently use a water pillow which is better but not 100% effective. I think I am going to try the pillow upside down. Thanks for sharing! I am so sorry that you experienced this pain but grateful that God has allowed you to continue your musical passion! Didn't plan on writing a


I'm sorry you suffered such painful injury. I can certainly relate! I think God sometimes allows suffering in our lives to strengthen our relationship with Him.

On the days when the pain is bad I definitely spend more time in prayer and thinking about His promises. So in a sense, my injury was one of the best things that happened to me. :)

I hope you can find relief!