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When You Can Manage Pain Yourself and When to Seek Medical Help

In most cases, using self-care measures and staying active can help you recover from neck pain. Your pain may start to get better after a few days. But, in some cases, the pain lingers. How long should you continue self-care? And how can you tell when it’s time see a health care provider?  


If you want to do self-care for your neck, here are a few tips to get you started. 

  • Move. Movement, not rest, is key to helping your spine recover. When you use your muscles to move, you get your blood flowing. This can speed up healing. Here are some suggestions for ways that you can get moving to help ease your pain.
        - Normal daily activities such as getting dressed, cooking, or washing dishes.
        - Household chores that don't require much bending, twisting, or reaching overhead.
        - Walking for even just a few minutes
        - Strength training twice a week using free weights, resistance bands, or your own body weight.
  • Use ice and heat. Use ice or cold packs for the first few days or after a flare-up. After that, apply heat to help relax tense muscles.
  • Take over-the-counter medicines. Over-the-counter medicines like ibuprofen can relieve pain and inflammation and help you get moving.
  • Manage stress. Muscle tension from stress and worry can make neck pain worse. To relax, you can try deep breathing, mental imagery, meditation, exercise, journaling, or doing something that makes you laugh. 

When to see a health care provider 

You may want to try self-care for your neck pain for up to 2 weeks. Most people will see an improvement during this time. If you do not, it’s time to make an appointment with a chiropractor, physical therapist, or a medical doctor. If you then see a chiropractor or physical therapist for 2 weeks and your symptoms don’t improve or if they grow worse, see a medical doctor. 

It may be time to see a health care provider if, after trying self-care:  

  • Your neck pain is not better 
  • You feel that your pain is getting worse 
  • You develop new symptoms 
  • You also have a headache 
  • You have numbness or tingling in your arms or hands 
  • Your pain is affecting your daily activities or quality of life 
  • You are using more medicine than is recommended 

When to call your doctor right away

While it is likely that you can safely manage neck pain yourself, a small number of cases may need medical attention. Call your doctor or 911 right away if you have: 

  • Loss of strength in your arm or leg 
  • Trouble walking 
  • High fever, recurrent headaches, or dizziness 
  • Stiffness in your neck, along with stiffness in your shoulders 
  • Neck pain caused by trauma  

View Credits
Primary Author: Sharon Odegaard
Clinical Reviewer: Jossue Ortiz, DC
Final Review and Approval by Jossue Ortiz, DC
--> Date of Annual Review:12/20/2022
Healthyroads' Editorial Staff follow a quality assurance process to help promote each article’s accuracy:
  • A health expert provides input on topic.
  • Scientific evidence from widely accepted health texts, peer-reviewed journals, and other reliable sources is consulted.
  • Final article is reviewed and approved by a health professional.
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