Neck problems


Important information on the use of ibuprofen

You should only take ibuprofen if you do not have a new persistent cough or temperature over 37.8 degrees, or other symptoms which are advised as being indicative of Covid-19.  Latest guidance on symptoms can be found here. 

Neck problems are normally caused by poor posture, an accident or in many cases, can start for no obvious reason. Your neck problem may cause hot, burning, shooting or stabbing pains in your neck and sometimes into one or both of your arms. You may also get pins and needles. This can be due to nerve pain. Neck problems are rarely due to any serious disease or damage. Most neck problems should settle within 6 weeks of following the advice provided here. You will not normally need an X-ray or an MRI scan.
Should I rest or move?
  • Keep moving, even if you move slowly at first.
  • Do whatever you normally would and stay at, or return to work. This is important and the best way to get better.
  • Try to move your neck, slowly and gently for 10 to 20 seconds every hour when you are awake.
  • Change positions regularly wherever you are.
  • Try to stay active but remember not to carry out activities which aggravate any pains you may have in your neck and/or arm (s)
  • Try to find a position that reduces any pains you may have in your neck and/or arm (s)
  • Check your pillow is not too firm or your mattress too soft. This can make your neck problem worse.
  • Wearing a collar will slow down your recovery and should never be worn when driving.
  • Exercise really helps your neck problem and can relieve your pain.

Should I take painkillers?

  • Painkillers can help you keep moving. However, it is important that if you are already taking medication for something else or have other health problems you check with the pharmacist at your local chemist before taking painkillers for your neck problem.
  • You can use simple, over-the-counter painkillers (such as paracetamol) or anti-inflammatory medicines (such as ibuprofen) to help your pain. You can take both these medicines together.
  • Always follow the instructions on the packet.
  • You can only take two 500mg paracetamol every four to six hours, and no more than eight 500mg paracetamol in 24 hours. You should not take any more than this amount.
  • You can only take three 400mg ibuprofen a day. You should not take ibuprofen if you have stomach problems such as ulcers, have had a previous allergic reaction to ibuprofen or an injury in the last 48 hours. Always take ibuprofen with or just after food. Don’t take ibuprofen if you are pregnant.
  • If you have asthma, ibuprofen may make it worse, but if you have taken it before with no problems then you can safely take it again. If you are not sure, speak to your pharmacist.
  • Take them regularly, not just when you are sore, for the next three to four days only.
  • If you feel you still need pain relief after four days then speak to your pharmacist for advice.

Should I use ice or a heat pad?

  • If you have had an injury or a flare-up of an old problem in the last two days, wrap crushed ice in a damp towel and hold it for five to ten minutes against the part of your neck that hurts. You can do this every two to three hours. Make sure you use a damp towel between the ice and the skin to avoid ice burn.
  • Alternatively, you could try sports sprays and gel packs, which do a similar job.
  • After two days, you may find that heat is more relaxing. You could use a heat pad or a hot water bottle with an insulated cover on it. Make sure this is not too hot and not directly touching your skin. You should this for 10 to 15 minutes, three to four times a day.
You will recover faster and everybody will benefit if you can stay at or get back to work as early as possible. Don’t worry if your neck still hurts, as you may only have to do light work at first. Try to stay active and remember to keep moving. Speak to your manager about any concerns you may have.
You should take time before you take part in any sports after a neck problem. If you take part in sports too soon you could flare things up again. Be prepared however for slight discomfort at first. You should only take part in sports when you can move freely. Remember to stretch and warm up fully before sports.
Other problems

Can my neck problem cause trouble anywhere else?

Your neck problem can sometimes cause hot, burning, shooting, or stabbing pains in your shoulders or into one or both of your arms. This can be due to nerve pain. If you have any of this, you may be able to take other, more appropriate medication. You should speak to your doctor about this if you have these pains for more than one week.

Your neck problem can also cause headaches or dizziness. You should discuss these with your doctor if they have not improved within six weeks.


Do I need to see my doctor?

Not normally. If you follow the right advice and take the right medication, your elbow problem should improve over the next six weeks.

If you experience a sudden onset of any of the following you need to attend A&E or contact NHS111 as soon as possible.

  • Neck problems that start when you are ill with other conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or cancer.
  • Pain that gets worse and worse.
  • Numbness, pins and needles, or weakness in one or both arms that has not improved after one week.
  • Problems with your balance or walking.
  • Blurred vision, ringing in your ears, dizziness that does not go away within six weeks.
  • You are feeling generally unwell and have symptoms such as weight loss or fever.

If your condition progressively worsens or persists for longer than 6 weeks you need to seek further medical advice.

Further information

It is normal for the discs and the joints in your neck to become worn as you get older. This is sometimes called cervical spondylosis.

One of the main causes of neck problems is poor posture.