Most cases of neck pain will resolve within days to weeks with rest, home care and a little patience.  Treatment of neck pain depends on the cause. With the most common cause – muscular strain – warmth can be helpful. A hot shower sprayed lightly on the neck, and hot compresses or heating pads placed on the sore area can all help alleviate pain.

If neck strain has just occurred, it may help to hold an ice pack against the stiff area for 15 minutes every hour. This reduces blood flow to the area and may help reduce inflammation.

Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen may also reduce swelling and lessen pain.

Rest is important and in certain cases a neck collar may be prescribed. Neck pain may be slow to improve, taking several weeks to completely heal. The key is to be patient and take it easy. A more serious condition requiring surgery, such as cervical disc disease, may take even longer to heal.

When neck pain persists or is chronic, your doctor may recommend a rehabilitation programme including exercises and physical therapy.

Very few people will need surgery to relieve neck pain. Surgery may only be necessary to reduce pressure on the spinal cord or a nerve root when pain is caused by a herniated disc or bony narrowing of the spinal canal.

Preventing neck pain

If you're prone to neck pain, the best prevention is gentle, slow neck stretching each morning. Avoid rapid, jerky movement.

Try these exercises:

Forward-backward stretch

Stand upright. Lower your shoulders as if you're trying to elongate your neck. Gently lower your chin to your chest while trying to touch the ceiling with the back of your head. Hold for 30 seconds.You should feel the neck muscle stretch, but it must not be uncomfortable. Slowly return to starting position. Tilt your head back, keeping your mouth closed and pushing your jaw upwards. Hold for 30 seconds.

Side-to-side stretch 1

Stand upright. Tilt your head to the right and place your right hand above your left ear. Reach your left arm towards the floor, while gently pulling your head to the right. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on opposite side.

Side-to-side stretch 2

Stand upright, looking forward. Relax shoulders. Turn your head to look over one shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds. Return to starting position. Repeat for opposite side.

Stretching the entire body before and after strenuous activity is also thought to be important in preventing neck and other spinal injuries.

Changing bad habits that cause tension in the neck and shoulders is also vital. It's never too late to correct your posture, which lessens strain on the neck muscles.

Check your home and office for possible causes of strain. At home, your bed and chairs could be contributing to neck pain. If you feel uncomfortable lying down or sitting for a short while, you might need to change your furniture. In the office, check your computer screen is at eye level.

Ideally, you should sit upright with both feet flat on the floor, without resting your arms on arm rests. The way you hold the telephone can also contribute to neck pain. If you spend long periods with the phone resting in the crook of your neck, consider rather using a headset.

If someone has suffered a neck or spinal injury, additional movement may cause further damage to the spine. If in doubt about whether a person has received spinal injury, assume he or she has and be sure to keep the person still.