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What to do when you sprain your neck

Woke up with a sore neck? Osteopath Liana Ioannidis shares advice on what to do when you sprain your neck.

Last week I had the first-hand experience of waking up with a very painful neck sprain. As an Osteopath, I was lucky enough to have the knowledge needed to know what to do and when to do it to get myself pain-free and back to normal life as fast as possible.

What to do when you sprain your neck

Practicing in the clinic, I know just how common neck sprains are and I feel like it’s only fair that I share my experience and tips with you.

1. Don’t Panic!

When we sprain a joint, our body’s natural response is to protect. That’s why we feel a lot of pain and muscle spasms around the area. When we panic in reaction to these strong feelings our stress hormones quickly rise which can increase our perception of the pain.

In the first few seconds and minutes after the injury, my tip is to breathe deeply and kindly remind yourself that you are okay, this will pass.

2. Call your Osteopath

Booking an appointment early with your Osteopath will help to not only calm down your nervous system but also help to recover from the neck sprain. An osteopathy consult will help to reduce the pain and offload the area by treating around the injury.

Your Osteopath will give you important advice and guidance on what to do for your neck sprain and what to expect over the coming days and weeks.

3. Apply heat

Applying heat to the area will help to calm down the muscle spasm and help you to relax. Heat bags are great but can be heavy and leave you immobile.

I suggest you get a stick-on heat patch some even come with pain-relieving herbs. I love the Eco Pain Patch which you can find in the Whole Body Health and Wellness Ocean Grove and Geelong West clinics (do not use this brand if pregnant).

I always have a few spare in the cupboard for these emergency moments, so pop in and stock up on a couple of Eco Pain Patches.

4. Topical Pain Relief

Applying magnesium spray and arnica oil or cream to the area and surrounds will help with inflammation and pain. They can also be used very safely multiple times a day.

Tip: A combination of the Weleda Arnica Cream and Whole Body Health and Wellness Magnesium Spray worked best for me when I experienced my recent neck sprain.

5. Movement

Movement can be your best friend and worse enemy in times of acute pain. It is important to keep yourself moving to prevent joints and muscles from ceasing up, however too much movement in the wrong direction can also make things feel worse.

My advice is to find movement that doesn’t cause or worsen your pain. Gentle movements such as walking, arm stretches, hips swings, gentle upper back movement (it doesn’t have to be fancy or big) are typically best. Just find some movements that don’t cause irritation to the neck and do them in a small amount but frequently.

If you are finding this part of your recovery challenging, speak to your Osteopath. They will be able to give you more detailed information during your consult.

What to expect when you experience a neck sprain

The first thing to remember is that everyone heals at different speeds. As a general guide, you should expect to feel a 50% improvement in neck pain at about day 3, with an increase in range of movement by approximately 60%. This is taking into account that you are doing all the steps above and have already had at least 1 osteopathy treatment.

Usually, these neck injuries recover to 80% in the first 10 days with appropriate care and within 2-3 weeks you will be back to 100%.

Other things to consider when you sprain your neck

1. Rethink your “to-do list”. Remember, rest is best!

2. Stay hydrated (with water).

3. Avoid sugar and refined foods as these increase inflammatory levels and pain.

4. If you’re going out in cold/windy weather wear a scarf to keep the neck area protected and warm.

5. Avoid using a bag with a single strap (i.e. handbag). If you really must carry something, choose a backpack.


Haven’t booked your Osteopathy appointment yet? Start your healing and recovery process today by calling 03 5200 1044 or clicking here to book online.


Neck Pain Resources

Neck Pain Fact Sheet
Neck Pain Fact Sheet
Neck Pain Exercises
Neck Pain Exercises