Waking up from an odd sleep position is not a good way to start your day. And probably for a couple more days that follow. With neck strain, performing even the simplest task can be disheartening. My go-to remedy is a hot and spicy salve for quick relief. Trust me, a balm with these ingredients is a surefire stiff neck healer.
What Causes Stiff Neck
A stiff neck stemming from muscle and joint misuse and poor posture is quite common. It can happen if you sleep or sit still in a certain uncomfortable position for too long. It may also occur after physical labor. These types of minor neck pains will go away on their own after a day or two.
But a stiff neck that comes with fever or headache, or after an injury or fall is another story. This particular case requires an immediate visit to the doctor. A sore neck that comes with other symptoms may be due to an infection such as meningitis which can be fatal if not treated immediately.
When properly managed, a stiff neck can improve within a few hours. If you leave it on its own, it may last about three days. But, remember a stiff neck should not last for more than two weeks. If that happens, you must have yourself checked by a doctor.
What Can Help with Neck Pain
Some people may take ibuprofen or acetaminophen to manage it. But you may also try the following herbs and spices to numb the pain and soothe achy joints and muscles.
Cayenne (Capsicum annuum) is a mighty spice for its numbing hotness and burning sensation. Its capsaicin content is valuable in alleviating muscle stiffness, joint pains, arthritic pains, and headaches. When applied topically, cayenne numbs the pain transmitters. It also reduces inflammation and improves blood circulation to soothe the joints, muscles, and surrounding tissues.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a prized spice in combatting inflammation and pain. It is often used as an oral or topical solution for ailments such as osteoarthritis. The curcumin compound in turmeric is what gives it its wide range of healing properties. When applied to the skin, curcumin blocks the production of inflammatory compounds. Curcumin is highly permeable, which means it’s easily absorbed into the skin to bring long-lasting relief.
Black pepper contains piperine, an alkaloid that boosts the absorption of curcumin. A dash of black pepper helps ensure that the curcumin compound is absorbed better by your body. That is why black pepper goes well, in fact it is an essential addition to remedies that contain turmeric. The piperine and curcumin combo has a very powerful effect against inflammation and soreness. They provide lasting relief and ease the discomfort of a stiff neck.
Ginger. If you have backaches, muscle pain, stiff neck or any chronic and acute pain, try treating it with a ginger compress. A poultice of ginger (Zingiber officinale) aids in the general relief of pain and draws out inflammation. Ginger oil is often used as a topical solution for arthritic pain. You can buy this from herbal stores or prepare it at home, infused with a carrier oil of your choice.
Arnica (Arnica montana), in homeopathic medicine, is best used in treating bruises and blunt injuries. It is useful in internal injuries and pain that is caused by muscle strain. Arnica is also used as an important ingredient in muscle recovery after performing strenuous exercise. Applying it to a stiff neck speeds up the recovery of the muscles and ligaments. Arnica may also help relieve tiredness after a long day of work.
Sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) is one of the essential oils used in aromatherapy for relieving depression and anxiety. It is also purported to relieve pain even through inhalation. When applied topically, it brings short-term relief from any pain. Sweet oranges are diluted in a carrier oil and used as a massage oil. It is best for treating stiff neck, muscle strain and body pain in general. Athletes often use sweet orange oil not only to alleviate body pains but also to improve their performances.
Lavender essential oil. The scent of lavender alone can be enough to soothe your spirit and tame nagging pain. An essential oil from lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is used both in aromatherapy and topical pain management. When used in aromatherapy, the scent of lavender stimulates the olfactory nerve. It results in immediate reduction of pain as it decreases brain activity. When applied on an achy joint and muscle such as in a stiff neck, lavender acts topically and relieves the soreness.
Calendula, or pot marigold (Calendula officinalis), belongs to the same family as the arnica. In traditional medicine, calendula is used to relieve pain from sprains, strains, trauma and joint inflammations. It is also mostly used along with arnica to double its healing effect.
I personally prefer to grow my own Lavender and Calendula plants, because they’re helpful for a wide range of common ailments. For buying quality seeds, I recommend this kit.
Homemade Stiff Neck Salve
If you have a recurring stiff neck, improving your posture may prevent it from happening again. But for quick relief, you can concoct this healing salve at home. This is made from analgesic and anti-inflammatory herbs, spices and essential oils. It comes in handy for all types of pains.
You will need:
- 2 ounces coconut oil or any carrier oil of choice (Golden Jojoba, Sesame, Sunflower, etc.)
- 0.5 oz beeswax
- ¼ tsp cayenne powder
- ½ tsp turmeric powder
- Dash of black pepper
- 12 drops Lavender essential oil
- 6 drops Sweet Orange essential oil
- 6 drops ginger oil from fresh root (Simmer ½ cup shredded ginger in ¾ cup carrier oil on low heat for 2 hours)
- a metal salve container with lid
- a double boiler
- Mix all the powders together.
- Put the carrier oil, powders and beeswax in a double boiler or metal pan over hot water. Heat over medium-low heat until the beeswax melts completely.
- Remove the pot from the water and stir in the essential oils.
- Stir well until blended, pour the mixture in a salve container and let cool.
You may adjust the softness of the salve by adding more carrier oil, up to 3 ounces. Just melt the salve back into the pan and add the carrier oil when necessary. If you want a more solid salve, try adding more beeswax.
Store the jar away from heat and light and wash your hands before and after using it. The mixture may last for up to a year with proper storage.
To use: Massage a small amount of the salve on the neck or any aching joints and muscles.
Other Remedies for Stiff Neck
Applying this healing salve can speed up a stiff neck recovery. You may also try these time-tested home remedies to go along with it. Apply an ice pack on the area for the first 24 hours, then a hot compress or massage. Do gentle stretches by moving your head to the sides, up and down. Ask someone to perform a gentle massage to the area. Use a neck collar. Sleep on your back without a pillow or use a cervical pillow if you are a side sleeper.