Waking up in the morning with pain in your head or neck can be an uncomfortable way to begin your day. Thankfully, most causes of head and neck pain are reversible and can be treated effectively with medication and non-pharmacologic methods. This article will discuss pain in these areas and how you can effectively manage it.
Neck pain usually leads to a reduced range of motion of your head, making it difficult or uncomfortable to perform your daily tasks. Unfortunately, neck pain is relatively common, with the incidence of neck pain increasing by 21.1 percent over the last 25 years. It is also a significant reason for disability amongst people aged 20 to 791.
Almost everyone has experienced head pain, or headaches, at some point. In fact, 75 percent of adults ages 18 to 65 will experience a headache this year. Of these individuals, at least 30 percent have experienced a migraine headache2.
There are over 300 types of headaches, with major ones including tension headaches, cluster headaches, and migraines. Each of these has slightly different presentations and symptoms3.
Management of Head & Neck Pain
Luckily, neck and head pain usually is reversible and preventable. Treatment can include medication or non-pharmacologic options.
Applying Treatment Techniques
If your head or neck pain significantly affects your quality of life, you may benefit from taking medication. Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers are usually a practical option. OTC products can include:
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs include medicine such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen. The drugs help decrease inflammation throughout the body and therefore can help with conditions such as pain.
Acetaminophen. Acetaminophen, commonly known as Tylenol, is another type of pain reliever. It has a different mechanism of action than NSAIDs and can effectively manage head and neck pain4.
Applying heat or cold
For neck pain, placing something cold on the neck may numb the area and reduce inflammation. After a few days, you can try using heat on the neck instead via a warm bath or heating pad4.
Maintaining proper sleep posture
A common cause of neck pain is improper sleep posture. Sleep posture refers to your body’s positioning while you sleep. Stomach sleeping, for example, puts pressure and strain on the spine and neck, causing neck pain. Altering how you sleep can help to improve symptoms of pain.
Consider sleeping on your side or back to reduce neck pain associated with sleep posture. These positions help to maintain the natural curvature of your spine, thereby decreasing muscle stiffness and stress on the neck joint5,6.
A physical therapist (PT) can be beneficial when neck pain persists despite at-home treatment. In physical therapy, you use specific exercises and stretches to relax the neck muscles, thus improving symptoms of discomfort and pain4.
Seeing a doctor
Occasionally, head or neck pain can result from other health problems. Head pain, for example, can be caused by medication or a tumor. Therefore, if your symptoms are persistent or are debilitating, it is best to seek advice from a healthcare professional. Doing so can help to identify potential underlying causes and tailor treatment.