So you wake up one morning and can’t look left. Or right. Pulling out on T-junctions becomes a nightmare and people start looking at you like you’re mad when you turn your entire body to look at something slightly outside your immediate field of vision.
Or you sit at a desk all day, you run around after children or you spend a weekend painting your ceilings, and voila, you can no longer move.
However is happens, it’s no fun.
When a muscle is overworked, or held in a position in which it is shortened or lengthened for a prolonged period of time, it will become fatigued, and unable to function properly. This will cause stiffness and pain.
Don’t panic, we are here to help! The majority of these soft tissue problems resolved themselves after 1-3 days (if not subjected to the same pressures that caused the problem in the first place). But you can hurry the process along and ease the symptoms by following these simple steps.
(The following advice is based on my professional opinion as a soft tissue specialist, other advice may differ).
Step One: Anti-inflammatories
These come in a variety of different forms. Ibuprofen (and similar) tablets can effectively ease pain and help treat the inflammation in a seized muscle. Ice is particularly effective too, although is only recommended when you have pain as a result of a sudden injury like whiplash. Heat is not recommended in the first 48 hours, unless the condition has developed slowly, over time. Ibuprofen gels can be purchased very inexpensive my from your local supermarket or chemist and can help too. The advantage with these is you can apply as often as you want (always check the label) and get on with your day-to-day.
When muscles are sore and stiff there will be a certain amount of inflammation, it is essential to treat this to aid and speed up recovery.
Step Two: Gentle Stretches
“Stretch!? I can’t even move!” When a muscle is very painful we naturally immobilise it because it hurts to move. However, when a muscle isn’t moving, it won’t be getting supplied with enough blood, proteins and other things essential to aid in it’s repair.
This needs to be done with extreme care, and a general rule of thumb is it is allowed to be a bit uncomfortable, but not painful. Here are some stretches to try, at least a few times a day until the discomfort goes away:
Start looking forwards, and slowly rotate your head about halfway towards one shoulder, or as far as you can go. Then slowly drop your chin to your chest, looking down. If you want, you can then apply light pressure to the back of your head with your hand (the hand on the same side you are rotating towards is best). You should feel a gentle pull down the back of your neck, which can extend down between your shoulder blades.
Drop one shoulder and gently pull your head away from that shoulder. You should feel the stretch along the top of your shoulder.
Follow instructions for stretch number 1, but this time gently rotate your face towards the other shoulder, as shown below. Your should feel a stretch along the top of your shoulder, side of your neck and into the base of your skull.
Step Three: Gentle movement
As discussed earlier, it is important to keep your muscles moving gently (unless of course you suspect your injury might be more serious such as a sprain, strain, tear or fracture, in which case please see your doctor!).
To do this, you need to gently go through your necks range of motion. The best way to do this is by doing individual movements, always returning to centre in between. These movements are:
-Rotate head towards one shoulder, the the other.
-Pull your ear down towards one shoulder, then the other.
In my experience, circling your head will not help if your neck is particularly stiff.
Step Four: If all else fails
If you are not seeing an improvement after 3 days, you would be well advised to see a soft tissue specialist, such as a sports massage therapist, or a physiotherapist. Muscular pains that don’t improve quickly by themselves are unlikely to then go away by themselves. Self massage is not recommended (even when you are a massage therapist!) for your neck.
If you suspect you may have a more serious injury causing your pain it is always advisable to see your doctor!
Thanks for reading.