Crick in Your Neck: How to Get Relief

Medically reviewed by William Morrison, MD on November 27, 2017Written by Kathryn Watson on November 27, 2017

Crick in neck vs. pain in neck

The term “a crick in your neck” is sometimes used to describe a stiffness in the muscles that surround your lower neck and shoulder blades. This is different from chronic or regular neck pain, which may be caused by a number of things and recur with some predictability.

A crick in your neck is usually more stiff and uncomfortable than sharply painful, and can most often be treated at home. Sometimes a crick in your neck can temporarily limit your range of motion.

Keep reading to learn why you might have a crick in your neck and how to get rid of it quickly.

Possible causes

Most often, the cause of this condition is simple. A crick in your neck can be caused by your neck being in an awkward position for a period of time. If you sleep in an awkward position, for example, or sit in a slumped position for an hour or two, you may move your vertebra out of alignment. Or you may put an abnormal stretch on the muscles and tendons of your neck, which puts pressure on the nerves in the back of your neck. This causes your neck to feel stiff and makes it difficult to stretch and bend.

Sometimes improper form during running or weight training can cause you to wake up with a crick in your neck the next day. Less often, a crick in your neck is the result of arthritis, a pinched nerve, or an infection in your body.

Treatment options

Here are some of the strategies you can use to get rid of a crick in your neck.

Over-the-counter pain relievers

An over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or an anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) can help with pain in your joints. If you wake up with a crick in your neck, make sure you eat something before you pop an analgesic so you don’t risk damaging your stomach lining.

Heating pad or rice sock

Applying heat to the site of your stiff muscles can help loosen them up. Once your muscles are moving freely, the nerves in your spine can relax and your range of motion should return.

Applying a heating pad to the area for 8 to 10 minutes is one way of using heat to relieve a crick in your neck. If you don’t have a heating pad handy, try putting some uncooked rice in a clean sock and heating it in the microwave for about 30 seconds. The resulting “rice sock” will work as a way to apply heat and soothe your shoulder and neck area.

Hydrotherapy

You can use hot water and steam as a way to massage and relax your neck. Standing under a hot shower with the jets massaging your neck may be enough to get your muscles moving freely again. You might also try visiting a steam room or taking a long, hot bath for the same effect.

Stretching

Gentle stretches might free the nerves in your neck from the stiff muscles that surround them. Try carefully and slowly rocking your head from side to side, before rolling your head forward and feeling the tension of gravity on your neck as you circle your head around.

You might also try lying down flat on your back, raising your arms to shoulder level, and slowly moving your head from side to side.

Breathing in deeply and moving carefully through these stretches will be key to relieving your stiff muscles. If you feel sharp pains, discontinue stretching right away to avoid pulling a muscle and making your discomfort worse.

Chiropractor or physical therapist

If home remedies don’t work, an appointment with a chiropractor or a physical therapist might help. They’ll assess the crick in your neck and develop a program to relieve your neck pain. A chiropractor or physical therapist may also have suggestions about your posture and lifestyle habits that can help prevent future neck stiffness.

When to see a doctor

A crick in your neck can be a symptom of a more serious health problem. In these situations, you’ll need to see your doctor. Radiating pain that doesn’t subside, weakness or numbness in an arm or leg, or an accompanying headache are all symptoms you shouldn’t ignore. If you simply have a crick in your neck that lasts more than 24 hours, call your doctor and let them decide if you should make an appointment.

Outlook and prevention

Most of the time, a crick in your neck will resolve itself after several hours with home treatment. If you’re prone to getting cricks in your neck, consider these tips to make them less likely to occur:

  • Adjust your sleeping position. Investing in one or two firm pillows is better for your spine and back than sleeping with multiple pillows (as they may shift during your sleep).
  • Evaluate your posture and consider physical therapy if you find yourself slumping or have difficulty sitting up straight for long periods of time.
  • Use a comfortable desk chair that supports your neck.
  • Have your exercise form observed and assessed by a professional if you often get a crick in your neck after working out.
  • Speak with your doctor to see if neck exercises might benefit your health. Some studies suggest exercises to train your neck can reduce chronic, recurring neck pain that doesn’t have a specific cause.
  • Try stretching your neck muscles gently several times a day, especially when you wake up in the morning and when you’ve been sitting for long periods of time. This warms up your muscles and makes them less likely to get stiff.
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