• Physiofit

Neck pain - the do's and don'ts

Mark Bowe

Chartered Physiotherapist

Firstly let me tell you that neck pain is very common but rarely caused by serious pathology. It can occur at any age, including young children. Some may say that due to the nature of our more desk-based life and moveable technology that posture may be an influencing factor. The truth is simple we just don’t think about exercising our necks when in the gym or doing classes so we get into trouble trying to sustain the weight of a tenpin bowling ball on top of our shoulders.

However, there are some groups of people who actually spend time actively strengthening their necks to give greater protection:

  • Boxers

  • Wrestlers

  • MMA fighters

  • High-speed pilots/ fighter pilots

  • Astronauts

  • F1/rally drivers

  • Rugby players

You get the picture, I could go on. Unfortunately, the general population just doesn’t do enough specific exercise for their neck muscles to deal with the demands of our more sedentary lives.

You may be surprised by some facts and figures associated with back and neck pain:

1. 85% of the population will have low back or neck pain at some point

2. 2.6 million people consult their GP about back pain or neck pain per year

3. The majority settle with no intervention within 6 weeks

4. If present for >12 months few return to normal function/work

5. Only 5% will have serious cause

So, the key message is to get “neck” active now and make sure that it doesn’t become chronic. Here are some pointers to start helping yourself get rid of neck pain.

Mark’s top tips for neck pain


Keep your neck mobile and continue with your normal activities as much as possible. Rest will make the muscles weaker so it is better to take painkillers to stay active.

Make sure you keep moving (your neck loves it!) as soon as you feel stiffness or tightness settling in, especially after sleep or staying in one position for a prolonged time. Gently turn your head to the left and right making sure you keep your chin level. Try gently tipping the head side to side moving the ear towards your shoulder. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy website has some simple exercises to follow:


If you experience any dizziness then stop and seek the opinion of a physiotherapist before repeating.


Using a neck brace or collar stops mobility of the neck and therefore this is not recommended!


Try using heat or ice packs on your neck. Either may help so experiment for short periods to see which one works best for you. Painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen will help you keep moving. Ask your pharmacist for advice regarding pain management.


Until the pain settles try to avoid heavy lifting, strenuous exercises such as sit-ups in the gym and prolonged neck postures such as slumping at the computer or driving long distances. Ask for an ergonomic assessment of your workspace and get your eyes checked as you may be eligible for alterations or new equipment. Split heavy shopping bags into several smaller loads and try to avoid carrying heavy shoulder bags on the painful side.


For many people changing their pillow can really help with neck pain. If you sleep on your side you need a pillow that is approximately the depth of your shoulder width. This often means two pillows for many adults. If you sleep on your back the pillow may need to be firmer but lower and memory foam and shaped pillows may help. A physiotherapist can guide you as to what might work best for you.


It is best to explore physiotherapy interventions before trying more invasive options. We have good links to some excellent consultants should we feel that you need a scan or to see a doctor.


A delay in starting exercises may lead to the symptoms lasting longer. Seek treatment from a physiotherapist if the symptoms are stopping you working, you are getting dizziness or the symptoms have lasted longer than a few weeks. They will prescribe appropriate home exercises to strengthen your neck and make sure it does not happen again


There are a few symptoms that should not be ignored. If you experience any of the following symptoms they may require more urgent help so see your doctor immediately:

· Difficulty controlling your bladder or bowels

· Poor balance or coordination, such as tripping or dragging your feet

· Fainting or feeling dizzy

· Difficulty using your arms normally or in a coordinated fashion

· Difficulty swallowing or breathing

If you would like any advice regarding your neck pain then please call or email us for more information on 01625 590444 or info@physiofit.co.uk

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01625 590444

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Alderley Edge,