Susan Lennon MSW, LCSW Content Strategist
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Specializing in Thought Leadership and B2B/B2C Marketing Communications

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Stiff Neck? Try these simple steps
USA Weekend Magazine, April 13, 2008
by Susan T. Lennon

Waking up with neck pain is a real ... pain in the neck! What gives?

"It's common to wake up with a stiff neck after sleeping 'wrong,' " says Scott Boden, M.D., director of the Emory Spine Center in Atlanta.

When you're in a "wrong" sleep position, the neck ache comes on gradually, which is why it doesn't startle you awake. Plus, Boden says, when you're sleeping, your muscles aren't active, so the pain doesn't really start until you're up and the muscles begin to work. Then, swelling and inflammation increase the ouch factor.

You can address minor neck pain yourself (see expert tips from Boden, below), but you should see a doctor if:

You have a headache and fever, and your neck is so stiff that you can't touch your chin to your chest.

Your arm or hand is numb, weak or tingly.

A fall, strike or injury caused the pain. Seek immediate care if you cannot move your arm or hand; this could indicate pressure on a spinal nerve, pressure on the spinal cord,a herniated disk, or a bone spur. In rare cases, especially in older individuals, it could mean a bone has been broken.

You have a lump in your neck or swollen glands.

It's difficult for you to swallow or breathe.

Self-care for minor pain

Medicate. Take over-the-counternon-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofenor aspirin.

Move wisely. Try not to let the neck stiffen up. Perform gradual, gentlemovements -- up and down, side to side, ear to ear -- to encourage range of motion. Gently massage the sore area. Do not jog or lift weights, which will increase neck stress.

Ice it. Apply ice during the first 48 to 72 hours. Then switch to heat(hot showers, compresses or heating pad).

Change the bed. Sleep on a firm mattress. And either use a special "neck pillow" that supports the neck without raising the head, or skip thepillow completely. If a pillow is too thick, it can force the neck forward, possibly increasing pressure on intervertebral disks.

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