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Neck pain

Most neck pain only lasts a few weeks. There are things you can do yourself to ease it, but see a GP if it doesn't go away.

How you can ease neck pain yourself

Do

  • take paracetamol or ibuprofen – or use ibuprofen gel on your neck

  • use a low, firm pillow

  • put heat or cold packs on your neck

  • try neck exercises

Don't

  • do not wear a neck collar – it's better to keep your neck moving (unless a doctor tells you not to)

  • do not do anything that could be dangerous because you can't move your neck – for example, driving or cycling

Putting heat or cold packs on your neck

Try either of these:

  • a pack of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel for 5 minutes, 3 times a day
  • a hot water bottle wrapped in a tea towel for 20 minutes, 2 to 3 times a day

You can also buy heat or cold packs from a pharmacy.

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • pain or stiffness doesn't go away after a few weeks
  • painkillers like paracetamol or ibuprofen haven't worked
  • you're worried about the pain
  • you have other symptoms, like pins and needles or a cold arm – this could be something more serious

What can cause neck pain

The most common causes are:

  • the neck becoming locked in an awkward position while sleeping
  • bad posture – for example, when sitting at a desk for a long time
  • a pinched nerve
  • an injury – for example, whiplash from a traffic accident or fall

How you can prevent neck pain

Do

  • when sleeping, make sure your head is the same height as the rest of your body

  • have a firm mattress

  • sit upright – roll your shoulders back gently and bring your neck back

Don't

  • do not keep your neck in the same position for a long time – for example, when sitting at a desk

  • do not sleep on your front

  • do not twist your neck when you're in bed

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Page last reviewed: 4 July 2017
Next review due: 4 July 2020