Cervical Disc Disease Treatment: Managing Neck Pain at Home
Cervical disc disease may be the most common cause of neck pain. It’s caused by an abnormality in one or more discs, the cushions that lie between the neck bones (vertebrae). When a disc is damaged, usually due to wear or tear (degeneration) or to disc herniation, it can lead to neck pain from inflammation or muscle spasms. In severe cases, pain and numbness can occur in the arms from nerve irritation or damage from pinching a nerve.
While pain relievers, physical therapy, neck traction, and as a last resort, surgery, can help ease neck pain from cervical disc disease, there are also home remedies you can use to help relieve pain and speed the healing process.
Neck Pain Tip 1: Take It Easy
If you’re like most people, you probably live a busy, hectic life. But if you’re living with cervical disc disease and have increased neck pain, it’s important to temporarily ease back on intense activities. While you are resting, find a comfortable position — one that causes you the least amount of neck pain. You can place a rolled up towel or a pillow under your neck to help keep your neck in a neutral position. Resting doesn’t mean crawling into bed and remaining perfectly still, however. Staying immobile for more than a day or two actually can be harmful because it can decondition the muscles that support your neck and actually increase neck pain in the long run. While your neck is healing, adjust your activity level to what you can comfortably handle. As you improve, gradually increase your activity level back to normal.
Neck Pain Tip 2: Apply Cold/Heat
People often face the hot/cold conundrum: Which one should you use? Generally, the recommendation is to use ice for the first 24 to 48 hours after an injury to reduce swelling, followed by heat to loosen muscles and improve stiffness. But with cervical disc disease, neither heat nor cold is going to penetrate deeply enough to actually relieve the inflammation, so use whichever feels best. Regardless of whether you choose cold or heat, keep it on for only about 20 minutes at a time and then leave it off for at least 40 minutes. Wrap the ice or heat source in a towel — never put it directly against your skin or you could wind up with a nasty burn.
Neck Pain Tip 3: Stretch
Once you are feeling well enough and your doctor gives permission, practice stretching exercises to both relieve neck pain and improve your flexibility.
It’s best to perform these exercises after warming up muscles with a warm shower, bath, or towel.
Here are a few simple stretches for cervical disc disease that you can do at home:
1. Slowly turn your head to the left. With your left hand, apply very light tension on your chin so that your head turns slightly more. Hold for 20 seconds and return your head slowly to center. Repeat on the right side.
2. Tilt your head to the left and try to touch your left ear to your shoulder. With your left hand, apply light pressure on your temple. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat on the right side.
3. Bend your head forward and try to touch your chin to your chest. Relax the shoulders as you do this. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat.
4. Lie on your back with your knees bent and a pillow under your head and neck for support. Nod your head forward gently, as though you were saying “yes.” Hold the position for 10 seconds and then relax. Repeat 10 times.
If you feel significant discomfort with any of these stretches, stop immediately.
Neck Pain Tip 4: Move It
Research is showing that exercise is an effective way to treat neck pain. According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association , women with chronic neck pain who performed strength and endurance exercises using resistance bands and light weights significantly reduced their neck pain and disability. It’s also important to keep active in general. Thirty minutes of aerobic exercise (walking, biking, swimming) every day can keep your back muscles strong. And improved blood flow from exercise can nourish your spine help to keep it healthy. Talk to your doctor, physical therapist, or a personal trainer with expertise in working with people with neck pain to determine the right exercises for you.
Neck Pain Tip 5: Get Out of Your Slump
Bad posture is a major contributor to neck pain. Think about your posture every time you are sitting, standing, or lifting. Always try to keep your head and neck straight and make sure your back is supported. When you sit at your desk, for example, your computer should be at eye level and your chair should be right up against your back (in other words, don’t press your nose against the computer screen). Your mouse should be positioned low enough so that you don’t have to continually reach for it. When you go to pick something up, don’t lean forward. Instead, bend from your knees and keep your back straight, which will also help protect against low back pain.
SOURCES: American Physical Therapy Association: “What you Need to Know About Neck Pain.” Nadler, SF. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 2004. K. Daniel Riew, MD, Mildred B. Simon Distinguished Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, Washington University School of Medicine. Ylinen, J. et al. Journal of the American Medical Association, 2003. Anthony Delitto, PhD, PT, FAPTA, professor and chairman, department of physical therapy, University of Pittsburgh. UptoDate.com: “Cervical Strain.”