Conditions > Neck Pain
Natural Neck Pain Relief
If you’re reading this, your neck might be sore, stiff, or you might be experiencing sharp, shooting pain. I’m here to reassure you that though unpleasant, most neck pain does go away and rarely is it cause for serious concern.
After reading this article, you will be able to identify the cause of your neck pain, today’s best treatment options, and hopefully put your worried mind at ease. Worry only makes pain worse and removing this can significantly improve any pain you’re experiencing.
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The best natural treatment for chronic neck pain is a combination of acupuncture, prolotherapy and PRP injections, and osteopathic manipulation and massage.
Causes of neck pain are a bit of a medical mystery. However, your neck pain is most likely caused by tight muscles, stretched ligaments, a disc problem, and made worse by worrying about the whole thing.
If your neck pain lasts longer than 6 weeks, is only getting worse, and you are experiencing unexplainable weight loss, these may be signs of a more serious condition. I recommend going to the ER instead of finishing this article.
What causes neck pain?
The neck pain you’re experiencing is most likely caused by tight muscles and some degree of ligament stretching. I use "most likely" because neck pain is a bit of a medical mystery. We don’t yet know the true causes of acute and especially chronic neck pain. Every case is different.
However, regardless of what started your neck pain, we do know the pain you’re experiencing is being continued by one or more of the following:
Like back pain, most neck pain is not caused by a disc problem or by the neck being “thrown out”. Although intervertebral disc problems – these are the squishy shock absorbers between your vertebrae – may be contributing to the pain, it’s the muscles and ligaments that account for and continue the painful soreness, stiffness, and shooting pain after any intervertebral disc irritation subsides.
Sharp pain in neck?
Sharp and shooting neck pain can seem like cause for alarm. The good news is most cases of sharp and shooting neck pain are caused by simple nerve irritation or muscle irritation.
Remember, your spinal column is surrounded by many, many nerves and muscles. When you experience sharp pains in the neck without any other symptoms, it’s likely a temporary irritation of these muscles or nerves, and the pain will likely pass on its own within a week.
Neck pain and stiffness?
A stiff neck can feel debilitating and be stress inducing. For those reasons alone, it can be a serious problem. Not being able to shoulder check while you’re driving because of your stiff neck is no laughing matter.
The good news is a stiff neck will heal and is rarely an indication of a life-threatening problem.
The most likely cause of your stiff neck has to do with muscle tightness. A stiff neck typically resolves itself within a week or two. You may assist the healing process by applying heat to the area and doing some light stretching.
If your stiff neck isn’t going away, you can move onto natural treatments like medical acupuncture, osteopathic manipulation, massage therapy, and prolotherapy for chronic neck pain. These treatments are discussed in detail below and can offer you a safe way to avoid surgery.
Severe neck pain - should I be worried?
If you’re experiencing severe neck pain and you’re concerned you might be experiencing more than muscle or ligament strain, please see a doctor instead of wondering and worrying about the cause behind your neck pain. Worrying only exacerbates the feeling of pain!
With that said, the following symptoms should result in a visit to the ER as quickly as possible:
Your neck pain is lasting more than 6 weeks and is not improving
You’ve been in a car accident which resulted in forceful whiplash and possible damage to your spine
Dangerous neck pain is often accompanied by other problems, some which have little to do with the neck or spinal column. If you experience headaches, a general lack of wellness, or lack of hand eye coordination, I strongly recommend going to see your doctor and being very specific when describing the symptoms you are experiencing.
Neck pain and cancer?
Neck pain can be a sign of cancer, but it is rare. In these cases, there are almost always other signs that accompany such diagnoses.
If your neck pain lasts longer than 6 weeks, is only getting worse, and you are experiencing unexplainable weight loss, these may be signs of a more serious condition. I recommend going to the ER instead of reading this article.
Are your ligaments responsible for your neck pain?
If you are suffering from neck pain and don’t meet the criteria above to rush to the ER, please read on.
All of us will experience some type of physical trauma in our life. Think car accident, an athletic injury, even cracking your neck a little too forcefully – all of these can result in a neck injury. More specifically, these injuries often stretch or tear the ligaments in your neck and shoulders – a ligament is the tissue that connects and secures two joints together.
When a ligament stretches, the joint it’s securing is no longer as stable as it could be. The result? Your body tightens muscles around the joint to stabilize and tighten the area.
So what happens when your muscles stay tight all the time? They get sore. What happens with sore muscles? They start to cause pain, headaches, and tension. Many people complain of tension in their upper shoulders and neck. Some of it is stress, but often times it’s due to small, little injuries that just haven’t been fixed over time.
After a decade of practicing medicine, the first thing I ask neck pain sufferers is, “have you ever injured your neck?” Neck pain is “interesting” because it seems to come on suddenly. One day, you wake up with a tight neck and you can barely turn your head to look who's talking to you.
But neck pain today is most times caused by a neck injury from before – specifically, a ligament injury that was never rehabilitated properly. Why? Because we just aren’t very good at rehabilitating injuries in general…
Rehabilitating after an injury is hard
What do you do when you get an ache or a pain? You, me, and most other people take pain medication, ice the area if it’s inflamed, and rest. Unfortunately, this is not good rehabilitation! Pain medication, cold compression, and lack of movement remove pain, but also reduce your body’s healing process.
All musculoskeletal healing involves bringing blood to the damaged area. Your blood contains the building materials used by your body to take away damaged tissue and lay down new, healthy tissue.
From the outside, this process begins with inflammation: it’s painful and uncomfortable, but very necessary. Our first reaction to discomfort is to remove it. Don’t! If you must remove the pain, consider natural treatments like acupuncture or massage instead of anti-inflammatory pain medication. Otherwise, realize the discomfort is normal and do your best to grin and bear it.
Natural treatments for chronic neck pain
Realize that most neck pain resolves itself within a week or two.
The remainder of this article explores natural treatments for chronic neck and head pain sufferers who have been dealing with a stiff neck, a “stuck” neck, or subtle but consistent neck pain and headaches for months, years, sometimes decades.
Many neck pain sufferers have found relief without resorting to surgery or steroid shots. So, the good news is it’s possible to relieve chronic neck pain. The problem is every neck pain sufferer is unique, and what works for one may not work for the next one.
Relief 30 years later
We recently had a patient who suffered from chronic head and neck pain for over 30 years. She visited doctors at the Mayo and Cleveland clinics, and still couldn’t find relief. After identifying and correcting several areas of ligament instability, her pain disappeared within a handful of treatments. No surgery was needed in this case.
The best natural treatments for chronic neck pain are:
Prolotherapy and PRP injections
Osteopathic manipulation and massage
Acupuncture for neck pain
Acupuncture can be a natural treatment for neck pain relief. If right now you’re using anti-inflammatory medication to treat your neck pain, I would suggest seeing an acupuncturist. It’s more expensive (our treatments are $40) but unlike anti-inflammatory medications, which inhibit your body’s healing process, acupuncture can assist and enhance the healing process.
Typically when treating chronic neck pain, acupuncture will be a supplemental treatment to your primary treatments, which may include osteopathic manipulation, prolotherapy and PRP injections, or, in those rare cases, surgery.
Prolotherapy for neck pain
Prolotherapy is a promising treatment for chronic neck pain. The woman mentioned above? She was treated with a series of prolotherapy injections, which removed 30 years of chronic head and neck pain.
Prolotherapy and platelet rich plasma (PRP) are regenerative medicine treatments which “regenerate” ligaments and joints by stimulating your body to remove damaged tissue and lay down healthy tissue.
Once ligament stability is restored, your body is then able to begin releasing the tense muscles surrounding the neck and shoulders. I believe restoring ligament stability is the first step to treating chronic neck pain. And the best way to do this is with prolotherapy and PRP.
Osteopathic manipulation for neck pain
Using osteopathic manipulation treatments (OMT) to treat chronic neck pain helps release tense muscles. OMT practitioners use their hands – natural, safe, and void of sharp, shiny edges – to release tight cervical muscles and improve circulation to soften the muscle tissue surrounding the neck.
OMT treatment is an excellent primary treatment or a supplementary treatment to prolotherapy treatments. It is typically used before and after prolotherapy injections. Remember that prolotherapy causes inflammation. You want to ensure your body is prepared to make the most of this inflammatory response.
OMT treatments help the joints and muscles properly set before the inflammatory response begins laying down new tissue.
Following the inflammatory process, typically lasting 72-96 hours, OMT treatments ensure the area properly drains of the inflammatory products.
The combination of these three treatments will vary from individual to individual. But after years of practicing medicine, this holistic approach is the only one I would recommend to my patients suffering from acute or chronic neck pain.
Of course, there are cases of chronic neck pain that require surgery or more invasive treatments. But these are few and far in between.
I hope this article helped ease your worries and presented you with treatments you can now research yourself and see if they’re right for you.
One contributing factor to chronic neck pain not really mentioned in the article is psychological stress. We now know that simply worrying about a problem can actually make it feel worse, in some cases, it can actually manifest a problem that wasn’t there before.
My best advice for minimizing psychological factors when it comes to neck pain is to realize natural and affordable treatments are available. You are not stuck with this for the rest of your life. But if you think you are, you just might be.