Normally, a mild stiff neck will disappear after a few days of rest. Unless there are hidden ailments like bone spurs in the body, a stiff neck is easily curable.
First, apply heat to the affected area by placing a hot towel at 45C to 55C for about 20 minutes. This will relax and heal the neck muscles.
In more serious cases, such as dislocation of the spine shifts as a result of overstretching, the symptoms may not go away even after a week, so the patient should go to the doctor. A person whose spine shifts have been mildly dislocated are more likely to get a stiff neck.
Most chiropractors and physical therapists opt for cervical traction or manual adjustment to correct the displacement, soothe the muscle spasms and improve neck movement. They may also use infrared, ultrasound or interferential therapy to reduce inflammation and muscle tightness, and to facilitate the recovery of tissues.
Anti-inflammatory drugs may also be prescribed if the pain affects the patient’s daily activities. A neck brace is sometimes recommended to support the head and reduce the pressure on the neck. It is to be worn for one to two days and should be taken off from time to time for neck exercises and sleeping.
Research studies have found out that using a neck brace inappropriately does more harm than good for the cervical spine that has become stiff and dependent.
Patients should do the following simple stretching exercises when the inflammation fades away:
1. Soothing the neck muscles. Keep the head in the center position. Bend the head down for ten seconds. Return to normal position. Tilt the head backward for ten seconds. Repeat the set ten times.
2. Stretching the back neck muscles. Sit upright with eyes gazing forward. Curl the jaw inward while maintaining the forward gaze until the back neck muscles are stretched. Hold for ten seconds. Repeat the set ten times.
3. Relaxing the neck and shoulders muscles. Sit upright with eyes gazing forward. Lift up the shoulders slowly and draw circles backwards. Repeat the set ten times.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec 12
Translation by John Chui
[Chinese version 中文版]
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