18 May 2009 04:07 pm
Neck pain can be caused by anything from sleeping at a bad angle, a sudden movement, a sports injury or the ever-popular wife-parks-a-truck-on-top-of-your-Ferrari type automobile accident.
And, as luck would have it, the only real cure for strained neck muscles is rest. You just have to give them time to heal.
However, there are several options available to help you minimize the pain while your body is going about the healing process. (And some of them actually work.)
Why Not Try Ice?
It may not be very glamorous, but one of the best pain relief treatments available is just plain old ice.
Ice reduces pain by reducing inflammation and swelling, numbing the injured area and slowing nerve impulses that carry pain signals to the brain. What’s more, many doctors and physical therapists believe that applying ice to soft tissue injuries assists with the healing process.
How Ice Works
Most neck pain is the result of minor soft tissue injuries such as strained or sprained ligaments. And like any sprain, this can lead to inflammation, muscle spasm and stiffness as the body tries to protect the injured area.
Ice helps reduce the inflammation, which in turn greatly reduces the pain.
Another way ice assists with the healing process is by reducing the swelling, which can help decrease tissue damage.
Ice also acts like a local anesthetic by numbing the area and slowing the nerve impulses that carry pain signals to the brain. These nerve impulses are what cause the muscles to spasm.
Another Way Ice Helps
As you might expect, when applying ice to an injured area the cold causes the veins and capillaries to contract. This temporary contraction of the blood vessels reduces circulation — which helps to reduce the swelling — but also produces a beneficial side effect.
When you remove the ice, the veins and capillaries will respond by dilating and this in turn brings a rush of new blood directly to the injured tissues. This fresh blood caries nutrients that are vital to the healing process.
So you see, ice therapy actually works on several levels.
General Guidelines for Ice Therapy
Ice usually works best if it is applied during the first two days following an injury. After that, heat is usually more effective.
If you wish to try this technique, be sure not to place the ice directly against your skin. Instead, wrap it in a towel or use an ice pack so that you don’t burn the underlying tissue. (I like using a plastic bag half full of ice water so that it can be molded around the injured area.)
You should only keep the ice on for about 5 minutes at a time.
The treatment can be repeated two or three times a day.
(Please note: Ice should not be used if you have rheumatoid arthritis, Raynaud’s Syndrome, or you are suffering from paralysis or other form of impaired sensation.)
While muscle strains and pulled ligaments are not very serious injuries, they can be extremely painful. Fortunately, ice therapy is a quick and easy way to obtain significant pain relief without breaking the bank.
So the next time life hands you an unexpected surprise, just remember that good old-fashioned ice is still one of the most effective forms of neck pain relief available.