Your neck has a difficult job. It has to hold up your big, fat head. No wonder so many people have sore ones.
Those muscles are complicated and delicate, so you want to be careful to rule out serious ailments when the base of your head is throbbing. While rare, this could be whiplash, an injury that's not always obvious right away. Or meningitis, a condition characterized by pain and sudden, inexplicable neck stiffness.
Probably not, though. Neck pain is usually the result of stress, poor alignment, a bad pillow or sports injury.
How many of you have tense shoulders right now? I'll bet a whole bunch of people just dropped their arms.
Mostly, you probably need to learn to relax. Don't we all?
What the experts say
"Well, there's Tiger Balm . Then there are magnetic acupuncture suction cups you can buy in Chinatown. You put them on the area of the sore muscle. Michael Vertoli designed a formula of essential oils for musculoskeletal conditions. It's St. John's wort oil in olive oil with a 10 per cent mixture of lavender and rosemary, four parts lavender to one part rosemary . Internally, you can take motherwort , which has anti-spasmodic effects. Passionflower is a muscle relaxant, but it's also a sedative, so you don't want to take large quantities during the day.'
NORMAN ALLAN , naturopath, herbalist, chiropractor, Toronto
"To alleviate real pain it is necessary to deal with any issues affecting you negatively . Meantime, try the following: Sit and breathe normally, drop your head forward and just let it hang for a minute . Feel your muscles let go, allowing your head to hang down a little more. Slowly lift your head and feel the length of your neck. Next, turn your head to the right and left . Which side is more restricted? Place your opposite hand on the restricted shoulder close to the neck . As you exhale, squeeze the muscle and tilt your ear toward your hand . Repeat six to eight times. Repeat using the other hand and shoulder.
MARION HARRIS , director, Feldenkrais Centre, Toronto
"People tend to use their neck, upper thoracic area and shoulders instead of their back, so all the tension is in the upper part of the body. When writing, for example, most people tense their shoulders and neck. When people move, they habitually throw their head back and down. Each time they make this kind of movement, whether they're walking or picking up a cup of coffee, they're compressing their head back into the spine. Stress, certain kinds of furniture, computers all have contributed to misuse of the body. People need to recognize where they are going wrong.'
ELAINE KOPMAN , director, Toronto School of the Alexander Technique
"On any given day, 22 per cent of people will have some level of neck pain. Common causes include a history of injury to the neck and work-related factors such as positioning of arms and shoulders. A lot of work in a sedentary position such as at a computer can cause repetitive strain injuries. Depression and mental health problems can be a risk factor for neck pain, too. When you have your first episode, the best advice is to remain active, stay at work, do some stretching exercises and control the pain with over-the-counter pain medications . Seeing a physician, physiotherapist, chiropractor may be helpful if after a couple of weeks it doesn't get better.' PIERRE CÔTÉ , scientist, Institute for Work and Health, assistant professor, University of Toronto
"If you've strained your neck and the pain is new, apply an ice pack for 10 minutes every hour. Cover the ice pack with a towel before putting it against your skin. If you have chronic neck pain and stiffness, heat can be relieving. When sitting at the computer, make sure the monitor is at eye level . If you work on a laptop, get an external keyboard so you can raise the laptop screen to eye level. Cradling the telephone between your neck and shoulder can cause neck strain. Consider a hands-free headset . Gentle, full deep breaths help decrease tension by taking your body out of stress physiology.'
KAREN LONGEDIJK , chiropractor, Toronto