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I woke up with neck pain, what do I do next? | Chiropractor, Cedar Falls

Over the course of a lifetime, nearly everyone will deal with an acute episode of neck pain. Whether it was caused by sleeping awkwardly or from looking too quickly over your shoulder while driving, many of us don't know what to do next. Regardless of the cause, it is encouraged to have a medical professional perform a proper examination of any injury before self-treatment. This isn't all always possible to have that done immediately though. The following are some simple exercises that you can try at home to help manage your pain and symptoms.


The first step anyone should take is to keep moving your neck. In many instances, when pain develops, we actively avoid moving ouir neck because of the pain. However, this can cause the joints and muscles in your neck to seize and lengthen your recovery time. You should try to keep your neck moving through any tolerable, PAIN FREE ranges of motion.


In some cases, your range of motion may be significantly decreased. It is still important to maintain whatever tolerable range of motion you can. If your pain increases with movement while seated or standing, you can try and perform your range of motion exercises lying on your back to take gravity out of the equation. This can often increase the amount of tolerable neck mobility that you have.


Go through all the different motions that our neck moves in. This includes looking over each shoulder (rotation,) bringing one ear to your shoulder (lateral bend) looking up and down with your head (flexion/extension,) and finally jutting your chin forward (protraction) and tucking your chin back (retraction). With each repetition, go as far as you can tolerate without increasing your symptoms and repeat. You might find your amount of motion will increase with each repetition and each set.



Once you have performed basic range of motion exercises, the next step is to begin turning on your neck muscles. The best way to activate these muscles when you're experiencing a lot of neck pain is to do what are called “isometric contractions.” An isometric contraction refers to activating a muscle without changing its length.


The goal is to perform isometric contractions in all the same ranges of motion, as previously discussed.





For rotational isometrics:

-Bring your hand to the side of your head and try and turn your head into your hand. Use your hand to stop your head from turning but continue to activate the muscles as if you were trying to look over your shoulder. Meet the force of your head-turning with your hand. Hold this contraction for 10 seconds. Once you're done with looking over one shoulder, perform it looking over the other shoulder.


This same technique can be applied to your lateral bend motions and your flexion/extension ranges of motion. The goal is to work all the muscles that move your head without having to create any movement. These types of contractions can not only help build back strength in your injured neck, but also help moderate and manage your pain.


Finally, once you have increased your range of motion and safely activated your neck musculature, the final group of exercises to try at home for acute neck pain are for thoracic mobility.


On some occasions, we may experience too much pain in a certain area to perform exercises. When this occurs, we can work nearby body regions and that will have a positive impact on your recovery. The most important adjacent region to work on when you have neck pain is your upper back (aka the thoracic spine.) When your upper back is restricted or stuck, your neck takes on increased work/stress. This not only pokes at the pain but in some cases, it can be an underlying factor that caused your pain in the first place. Below are some thoracic mobility exercises that can be used to help unload the cervical spine and manage your neck pain.


Thoracic spine extension over a foam roller.


While performing this exercise, roll the foam roller through the upper back until you feel a spot that is tight or restricted. Support your neck and extend backward over the foam roller. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat.





The last exercise is to address limited thoracic rotation. An exercise called a “Can Opener” can be performed.


The exercise begins laying on your side with your knees and hands together. Slowly rotated only your upper body until you can no longer keep your knees together. Finish the exercise by bringing your hands back together.


These exercises are not designed to treat all forms of neck pain; rather, they are a great general place to start!


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