March 4, 2021

How I recovered from my sudden, agonizing neck pain

A few weeks ago, I suddenly had a throbbing pain on the left side of my neck which radiated towards my shoulder joint and upper arm. And this didn’t happen after waking up, as it usually happens with most people - as a matter of fact, it happened in the evening when I was surfing my tablet.

Sudden, agonizing neck pain? What remedies should you follow?


My sore, stiff neck

I felt uncomfortable turning my neck from side or side and an agonizing pain while looking up. The next day, after I woke up, the pain was worse. Somehow I managed the household chores.

Hypochondriac that I am, I imagined the worst possible things! I worried I had high blood pressure or perhaps even a heart attack! Do read the post Hypochondriacs over the net.

I didn’t dare to google for symptoms even though some people have had a good experience of finding credible info and good medical advice after scouring the net. The probability of me getting terrified with the information presented by googling for my symptoms was much more than getting accurate information for my condition.

I decided to visit a doctor in a day or two if the pain didn’t subside on its own; that seemed a better proposition than googling!

Causes of sore, stiff neck - pinched nerve in the neck, cervical spondylosis, bad posture and eye glasses


Was it cervical spondylosis or a pinched nerve in the neck or eye glasses (surprise!!) ?

At first, I suspected it could be cervical spondylosis and hence tried to do a few neck exercises. But that made the pain worse.

For sure, it wasn't a case of frozen shoulder. Read more about how sudden, jerky movements can cause a frozen shoulder and  the ordeal that you have to go through if you are affected by it.

I rummaged through my post Home remedies for cervical spondylosis, written several years ago and decided to apply hot water compresses on my neck and shoulder blades. This provided immense relief.

My neighbor mentioned that I probably had a pinched nerve in the neck. Now when I come to think of it, she was probably right, though I’m not too sure. 

Looking at the symptoms of pinched nerve in the neck or cervical radiculopathy as it’s called in medical parlance, most symptoms seemed to match except that I did not have numbness in my arms. You can read about the symptoms of pinched nerve here.

Glasses can give you neck and shoulder pain? Really?

A few days ago, this piece on Daily Mail caught my attention. Apparently a woman Barbara, 74, discovered her GLASSES were the cause of her agonizing neck and shoulder pain - but only after she had tried a host of treatments including breast-reduction surgery.

Apparently she was using varifocals or glasses with progressive lenses [glasses that correct vision both far away and close up] for doing a lot of computer work.

Her optician explained that this was possibly the cause of her excruciating pain, as she would have had to constantly move her neck to see through the correct portion of her glasses properly and all these slight movements over the years had caused all this pain.

According to Dr Bhavin Shah :‘If you’re at a computer all day, you are constantly moving your head slightly in order to see clearly. This movement could lead to eye strain but, eventually, causes issues in the neck and shoulders.’ 

Eye Glasses or spectacles  can give you neck and shoulder pain sometimes

Even though you may not wear varifocals / progressive lens glasses, there are some other ways glasses could cause neck and shoulder pain. If your eyewear prescription is not up to date, there is a chance of you leaning forward or backward to see things correctly and this could result in neck pain.

In my case even though I do wear glasses, they are not varifocals or progressive lenses and not even bifocals; they are just for distance reading only! However I do need to wear them while working on a laptop.

In my case, glasses aren’t possibly a culprit in my case, as my prescription is up to date. However it’s possible that the computer screen, desk and my chair were not ergonomically arranged and I could be leaning forward or backward in awkward ways so as to trigger pain in my neck.

Also I probably need to take more breaks in between my work and pay attention to my posture every now and then.


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Self Care Treatments For My Sore Neck

Self care treatments for sore and stiff neck that worked.


Heat therapy / Thermal therapy

Heat therapy or thermal therapy is one of the oldest, cheapest and best treatments known to provide relief from stiffness and pain.

Here is how it works. When you warm up your sore, stiff joint or muscle, this expands the blood vessels, thereby increasing blood circulation in that area. This improved blood circulation allows for more blood, oxygen, proteins and other nutrients to be delivered to the injured tissues paving way for their healing process.

Giving heat therapy to the neck works by reducing stiffness, relaxing the neck muscles and improves its overall flexibility. Heat therapy also works by preventing future injury by increasing flexibility.

There are different ways in which heat therapy can be administered to the neck area. Some of the ones that I tried are as follows:

Warm baths

Nothing provides more relief and relaxation than a warm bath when you have aches and pains. Warm bath reduces muscle stiffness, perks you up and invigorates you to perform your daily activities with more fervour.

I first applied Mahanarayana Tailam (oil), on the painful areas and allowed it to stay for around 20-30 minutes before taking a bath. And while taking a bath, I poured bearably hot water on the affected area and this seemed to provide immense relief and loosened the stiff muscles.

Hot bath can relieve aching muscles of your neck and shoulders
Hot bath can relieve aching muscles of your neck and shoulders
.

I don’t have a bathtub in my bathroom. But if you do have it, try adding epsom salts to your warm water bath and relax and soothe your tightened muscles. Apparently, epsom salts help reduce inflammation and improve the blood flow.

However make sure that the water for your bath is just warm and comfortable for your skin. Too hot water may scald you or damage your skin.

Hot water bottle / bag treatment

I applied hot water compresses ( used hot water bags such as these) twice a day for 15-20 minutes each and this certainly helped to a great extent.

Hot water bottle or bags, also know as dry heat treatment can help in aches and pains.

Moreover when I found out that moist heat therapy is better than dry heat treatment for relieving sore muscles, I soaked a Turkish towel in warm (not hot and scalding ) water and after wringing out the water from it, placed it on the painful areas for relief.

I decided not to venture doing neck exercises until my neck felt a little better.

Soaking in the sun or sunbath treatment

I also went to the terrace of my building every morning between 9-10 am, to soak in the sun for around 15- 20 minutes. Feeling the warm rays of the sun on my achy body kinda infused new life in me and rejuvenated me both physically and mentally.

Indeed this sunbathing ritual proved cathartic to me. I have made up my mind to indulge in a sunbath at least once every day. Everyone should try it : it's that revitalising and invigorating!

Even in a tropical country like India, where adequate sunlight is available, it’s surprising that many people, regardless of their age, gender or class are low in Vitamin D.

Soak up the sun to get your share of vitamin D and fight aches and pains.
Soak up the sun to get your share of vitamin D and fight aches and pains.

Lack of vitamin D manifests itself through acute pain in the neck, shoulders, feet, and joints in some folks. Research has also shown a link between vitamin D deficiency and low immunity levels, obesity and diabetes.

The sun is one of the biggest sources to procure our share of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is not naturally found in very many foods, so it makes sense to spend more time in the sun to accrue health benefits.

Soaking in the sun for a good 20 minutes when you get those aches, pains and stiffness whether in your neck, shoulders, feet, back or other joints, should provide immense relief. Sunlight is your best friend when you feel achy and blue.

You may also want to check the book Health and Light: The Extraordinary Study That Shows How Light Affects Your Health and Emotional Well-Being. Amazon India | Amazon US

Stopped using the pillow

Slowly the pain started subsiding; each day there was significant reduction in the pain levels. And more so, when I stopped using a pillow while sleeping and instead used a folded bed spread as a head rest.

Say no to such pillows when you have neck and shoulder pain.
Say no to such pillows when you have neck and shoulder pain.

Sleeping with a neck pain can be a nightmare especially when you are not aware that improper pillows are causing it. It just struck me after 2-3 days of suffering that the pillow could have been one of the causes of my excruciating pain.

A memory foam pillow that conforms to the contour of your head and neck can help with proper spinal alignment. Also when you are on a plane, car, train or a bus, a horse-shoe shaped pillow can support your neck and prevent your head from dropping to one side if you doze.

So I’m planning to buy one of these neck pillows (Amazon link) for sleeping and this one for traveling.

Neck exercises

I now started doing a few neck exercises such as tilting my neck slowly on each side and holding for 10 seconds and also looking up and down and holding the position for 10 seconds. For more such easy exercises for the neck do take a look here and here.

I also did the shoulder rotation exercise and exercises meant for cervical spondylosis as taught by Baba Ramdev as shown here Also these exercises from Yoga with Adriene are really good.

Gentle movements of the neck & simple neck exercises can help a lot to alleviate neck pain
Gentle movements of the neck can help a lot to alleviate neck pain

Also take a look at the post Caring for your neck and some awesome neck exercises.

But be careful while doing any sort of neck exercises or intricate yoga poses that can possibly cause injuries. Take a look at the post Neck injury during yoga caused a stroke in an influencer.

Especially when you have recently suffered from neck pain or cervical spondylosis or vertigo or just recovered from it don’t try extremely bending positions or complete rotations of the neck.

Minimized usage of smartphone and tablet

I know, I know - I did write a post on how smartphones are bad for your vision and posture. But old habits die hard. I’m trying my best to break up this smartphone addiction.

This constant holding of a smartphone in my left hand and tilting my neck to see it could also be one of the culprits for my neck and shoulder pain.

Currently I’m reading How to Break Up With Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life by Catherine Price and Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport and these books suggest practical ways of achieving this.

Minimize the use of electronic gadgets such as smartphone, tablet,ipad, iphone, laptop etc to avoid neck & shoulder pain.
Minimize the use of electronic gadgets such as smartphone, tablet,ipad, iphone, laptop etc to avoid neck & shoulder pain.

Additionally I’ve purchased mobile / tablet and kindle holder such as this one for a hand-free experience and better posture and viewing.

Also I'm planning to buy a laptop table such as this one for Kindle reading as well as for using my tablet in bed.

All in all I'm trying my best to reduce my screen time and usage of electronic devices. Also working on maintaining correct posture.

Ergonomic Workstation

As for my working desk ergonomics, I have adjusted the height of my swiveling chair so that the laptop screen is at my eye level.

Make your workstation ergonomic to avoid neck and shoulder pains.
Your ergonomic workstation to accomplish your tasks without neck and shoulder pain.

Apparently, the monitor height should be adjusted such that that the top of the screen is at—or slightly below—eye level and your eyes should look slightly downward when viewing the middle of the screen. [Source]

I do use a separate keyboard for my laptop. For now, I haven't bothered buying expensive ergonomic design split keyboards such as this or a vertical mouse such as this. But for those of you who have lots of typing work to do and those who can afford to buy them can go ahead..

Conclusion

I am just a layperson and not a healthcare professional; I have shared these self-care tips, home remedies and ergonomic adjustments that have worked for me while dealing with neck pain.

However, if you do have neck pain, especially a pain in the left arm and experience other bizarre symptoms like numbness in arms, weakness on one side of the body etc you should consult a doctor immediately.

Furthermore, if the pain doesn’t seem to reduce in intensity each day, it’s no use waiting for it to get better. Rush to your medical health practitioner or orthopedic at the earliest.

So what do you do when you have aches and pains due to improper posture or bad ergonomics? What measures have worked for you when you have had neck pain or aching shoulders? Do share your views in comments.


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