5 Ways to Prevent Neck Pain

Neck pain and posture

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It starts out as a dull aching sensation in the back of the neck, right where the neck and head meet. You know the pain is coming, but you’re on a roll and you can’t stop now. But the longer you stay hunched over your computer or smartphone—working, scrolling, or texting—the worse your neck pain gets. 

Neck pain is a common pain problem and, in most cases, a temporary discomfort that resolves with a little massage and maybe some over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication. But there are things you can do to halt this type of pain. In fact, taking steps to stop neck pain now may prevent it from turning into a chronic pain problem later.

What Causes Neck Pain

Your neck is the most flexible part of your spine. The structure and function of your neck gives you the ability to move your head up and down and side to side. Unfortunately, the flexibility of your neck combined with the weight of your head makes this part of your spine vulnerable to conditions that cause pain.

Poor posture is a common cause of neck pain. Keeping your head bent when looking at your computer, tablet, or smartphone places a lot of stress and strain on your neck. And, like many people, you may keep your head in that bent position for hours. 

You can also develop neck pain if you forcibly move your head during a workout, similar to whiplash. Neck pain also can occur when using improper form to lift heavy weights, inadvertently pulling a muscle.  Sleeping in an uncomfortable position may also cause a neck ache, like when you fall asleep on the couch.

Why Neck Pain Should Be Addressed

Neck pain is common and not always a symptom of a serious medical condition. But the pain you feel is a sign that something is wrong. Daily activities are a common cause of neck pain. If you continue as usual, your neck pain will continue too.

Over time, the stress and strain on your neck from poor posture at the desk or at the gym, may speed up the general wear-and-tear that affects all joints over time. This general wear-and-tear is the primary cause of many of the aches and pains that occur as you get older.

Ignoring your neck pain now may cause these pain conditions, like a herniated disc or arthritis, to happen sooner. Additionally, when properly treated, you may prevent your mild on-and-off neck pain from turning into a chronic pain condition.

How to Prevent Neck Pain

There are plenty of options available to you when it comes to preventing neck pain. Making a few changes to your daily routine can stop the discomfort and potentially prevent future problems. Here are five tips for preventing neck pain.

Use Good Posture

How you hold your head can improve or worsen your neck pain. If you spend most of your day with your head bent forward over your shoulders—called forward head position—you’re placing a significant amount of strain on the muscles, ligaments, and bones that make up your neck.

Your spine has an ergonomic design and its natural curves evenly distribute the weight of your body so no one part is carrying more weight than it can handle. Proper posture places your head above your shoulders, not in front of it. You know you’re using good neck posture when your eyes are looking forward, not down.  

Take Frequent Breaks

Computers, tablets, and smartphones aren’t going away. It’s estimated that people spend more than 6 hours a day looking at their electronic devices, catching up on emails, scrolling through social media, and texting.

Taking breaks from your screen can ease your neck pain. Getting up and stretching every 15 to 30 minutes reduces the constant strain and may help prevent that neck ache you get at the end of the day. A quick 30-second break is all you need. 

Adjust Your Workstation

If you look down at your computer when you’re working, you need to adjust your workstation. For good posture, your eyes should look forward. Change the height of your chair or raise your computer screen so your head is in the proper position and use a chair with armrests to reduce stress on the shoulders and neck. 

This goes for both your home and work office. A 2020 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found significant increase in neck pain in people working from home. Working from home has many benefits, but if the couch is your home office it’s time to make an upgrade. 

Use Proper Form in Workouts

Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do to prevent neck pain, but not if you’re using improper form when lifting and squatting. Poor form increases your risk of injuries.

In fact, you may get better results from your workout if you pay more attention to form and technique than the amount of weight you’re lifting. If you are unsure how to perform different moves in the gym, talk to someone on staff or meet with a certified personal trainer for a quick tutorial.

Change Your Sleeping Position

Your sleeping position may contribute to your neck pain. Though sleeping on your back is the most neutral position for your spine, it can place strain on the neck, causing a morning neck ache. Changing how you sleep is a big adjustment, especially if you’ve been sleeping in the same position for years. 

To help offset aches and pains that can occur from sleeping, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends sleeping on a firm mattress and using a pillow that supports your neck to prevent pain. You also may want to experiment with different sleeping positions—especially if your neck hurts frequently when you get up in in the morning.

Treatment Options for Neck Pain

When you have neck pain, you have many treatment options to reduce the discomfort. In addition to reducing the stress and strain on your neck by changing the position of your head, try cold therapy for the first 2 days you have pain and then heat therapy. Massaging and stretching your sore muscles may also relieve some of the discomfort.

You can also get professional help for your neck pain. After visiting a primary care provider, you may benefit from physical therapy to get relief from your acute neck pain and prevent future problems. Manual therapy plus exercise can reduce neck pain, according to a study published in the Journal of Back and Muscle Rehabilitation. Manual therapy refers to the hands-on techniques physical therapists use to treat neck pain, like passive stretching and massage.

Your primary care provider may also prescribe anti-inflammatory medication or muscle relaxers. When conservative medical interventions fail to reduce your neck pain, you may need corticosteroid or epidural injections.

Most importantly, pay attention to how you hold your body throughout the day. It takes time and effort, but using good posture when sitting at your work desk, watching TV, and working out can go a long way. You may even consider trying an app to remind you to practice good posture to stop the neck pain.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

You can manage mild neck pain at home, but if your pain continues after incorporating gentle stretches and changing your work environment, then you need to see a healthcare provider. You also should schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider if your pain is getting worse or you have sharp shooting pain or numbness that travels down your arm or leg. It’s also a good idea to see a healthcare provider when you have neck pain from an injury, like whiplash following a car accident.

A Word From Verywell

Neck pain is common, but making a few changes to your daily routine may stop or prevent your discomfort. Simply taking regular breaks from your computer or smartphone throughout the day can make a world of difference. Also, focus on keeping your eyes looking forward, not down. No matter what, seek advice from a healthcare provider when you have ongoing or severe neck pain. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can I get rid of neck pain naturally?

    You can get rid of neck pain naturally by improving your posture, taking frequent breaks from your electronic devices, and getting exercise. Of course, when exercising, use proper form and technique to prevent additional problems.

  • What is the most common cause of neck pain?

    Everyday activities are the most common causes of neck pain. This includes spending hours a day hunched over your computer, poor posture when watching TV, and sleeping in a position that puts extra strain on your neck.

  • Does stress cause neck pain?

    Everyone responds to stress in different ways. If you get tense when stressed, then you might inadvertently tense the muscles in your upper back and neck, resulting in neck pain.

14 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Jill Corleone, RD
Jill is a registered dietitian who's been learning and writing about nutrition for more than 20 years.