Kiss nagging aches good-bye with these Rx-free techniques

By Rachael Schultz
March 21, 2014

Talk about a pain in the neck: Two-thirds of Americans 18 to 34 years old have had chronic pain, or know someone who has, in the past year alone, according to an American Osteopathic Association survey, and neck pain was third on the list of trouble spots. Neck and upper-back pain is mostly caused by stress and ergonomics (how we sleep, sit, and work), says Manhattan-based massage therapist John Ellsworth. Which means the torment is treatable. And since more than half of the people surveyed confessed they might not seek professional help for discomfort, here are five DIY ways to say sayonara to soreness.

Sleep in a Scarf



"More than 80 percent of your body heat comes from muscular contraction. When you're cold, your muscles tighten slightly to generate heat," Ellsworth says. Your neck is uniquely exposed at night, especially when you're covered in blankets, robbing your neck muscles of the chance to rest, recover, and heal like the rest of your body, he adds. With a scarf, your neck will be toasty and relaxed. You should feel daytime relief within three to four days, he says.

Change Your Workout



The connective tissue around your muscles called fascia likes to move in different ways, says Hal Blatman, M.D., author of Winners' Guide to Pain Relief. So consider adding Pilates and kettlebells into your fitness routine: A 2013 study from Dublin found that people with a history of neck pain who did two hours of Pilates a week for six weeks reported less aching, while Danish researchers found that women who completed three 20-minute kettlebell sessions for eight weeks reported less pain (and more core strength) than their regularly exercising counterparts. (Try this Killer Kettlebell Workout.)

Opt for Natural Painkillers



Chronic pain means a chronic need for painkillers, but popping ibuprofen is only recommended for up to 10 days, certainly not for weeks. Not only can herbal aspirins offer safer, long-term pain relief, some can even be taken alongside nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or aspirin to increase their potency. Try Corydalis yanhusuo, a traditional Chinese herbal pain medicine, or curcumin, a chemical found naturally in the Indian spice turmeric. Studies have found that taking either along with NSAIDs increases their effectiveness up to ten fold and may help decrease your need for the prescription stuff, says David Grotto, R.D., author of The Best Things You Can Eat: For Everything from Aches to Zzzz.

Stay on the Table an Hour



Dish out the dough for an hour: People who suffer from chronic neck pain saw more relief from a 60-minute massage than a 30-minute one, according to new research in the Annals of Family Medicine. The reason is simple: You can knead more knots the longer you have, Ellsworth says. "I can spend a half hour working on four square inches of a client's back; it's just that tight."

Clean Up Your Diet



Most researchers agree that excess sugar can trigger inflammation in the body. The biggest instigators: bread flour, processed sugar, and even fruits and vegetables high in natural sugars like potatoes, carrots, and bananas. You shouldn't stop eating produce, but if you have chronic neck pain, stick with low-sugar varieties such as berries, leafy greens, and mushrooms. Upping your intake of omega-3 fatty acids can also help lower inflammation and therefore pain, Grotto says. Omega 3s break into compounds called resolvins, which help halt your inflammatory response and are more potent than the original fatty acids. Fill up on fatty fish (wild-caught salmon, mackerel, sardines, albacore tuna), walnuts, flaxseed, canola oil to get your omega-3 intake. (Related: 10 Foods That Cause Inflammation)