Woke Up With Neck Pain? Why It Happens And What To Do About it!

You thought you had a great night’s sleep… you sit up out of bed .. do a little stretch.. and immediately feel a pain in your neck. Then you realize you really can’t turn your head with out terrible stiffness and pain. You feel stuck. What the heck??

neck pain charlotte

Why Do I Wake Up With Neck Pain?

Holding the neck in awkward positions (ex: forward head) for long periods of time is typically the most common cause of neck pain. Putting yourself in these weird postures can cause the muscles to lock up and spasm. But why does this happen? Let’s delve deeper into this.

The cervical spine (the neck) is comprised of a sequence of interconnected joints stacked upon one another. Each of these joints play an important role in moving our neck. But here’s what happens. Based upon what we do throughout the day – like work, exercise, and amount of driving, etc  – our cervical spine can develop stiffness in certain segments more than others (based on how we hold our head). These actions can then result in some parts of the neck becoming stiffer than others. Consequently, the regions surrounding these stiff segments begin to compensate and end up moving more than they’re built to do (to make up for the stiffness elsewhere).

neck pain charlotte

Here’s what happens next – when we go to sleep, those “extra motion” segments are at higher risk of really sliding into a bad position. After hours of being in a terrible position, pain arises, and the muscles surrounding these segments lock up in an attempt to protect it. This is that “crick in your neck” feeling you get when you wake up in the morning! 

So that brings us to the two questions you like are wondering:

  1. How can we decrease the chance of waking up with neck pain?
  2. If we do wake up with neck pain, what can we do about it?

Check out the answers below!

So how can we decrease the chance that we wake up with neck pain?

Consider these 6 points:

1. What does your pillow look like?

You should avoid pillows that are too flat or too high. However, there is NOT a one-size fits all answer because everyone is different in their size and build. Having your neck in a neutral alignment when you sleep is whats most important. What is neutral? Your head isn’t tilted left or right, isn’t rotated left or right, and isn’t extended backward. Its kept in a slight “head nod” neutral position. Having a pillow that allows the neck muscles to relax and keep the natural curve of your neck supported and maintained is key (avoid the “neck bump” pillows.

2. AVOID sleeping on your stomach at all costs!

Sleeping on your stomach puts significantly increased strain on the neck. It forces the neck to rotate to one side or the other which significan’t increases the chance you wake up with neck pain. There’s simply just no if, and, or buts – DON’T DO IT!

3. Sleeping on your back is ELITE! (Side sleeping is 2nd best)

Sleeping on your back is king, but your side is works as well. If you prefer to sleep on your side, ensure your pillow is an appropriate thickness to support the neck in this position is the most important. This will depend on the distance between your should and your neck, so if your a tall or big dude, you’ll need a thicker pillow compared to yourpetite female counterpart.

4. Upgrade your sleeping habits.

Are you getting enough sleep each night to allow your body to fully recover? Are you downing energy drinks or coffee later in the day? Do you have a nightly routine? Surprisingly this is one of the main components that many people miss! Don’t let your body run on fumes… give it time to fully rest and recoup.

5. Be mindful of how you hold your head throughout the day.

In a society where we’re constantly on our phones or working at a computer, how we hold our head can playa a bigger role than you think. If you put things in perspective, almost half of our day consists of of positions like computer work, driving, reading, texting, social media, etc. Avoid letting your head drift into the infamous forward head posture or resting in various tilted positions throughout your day, and you’ll be in good shape. Maintain that neutral head position while working on a computer, driving, or on your phone, and you can dramatically decrease the strain you are putting on your neck day-in-and-day-out.

6. Reach out your local, Charlotte Physical Therapist

At The Charlotte Athlete, neck pain is one of the most common problems we solve.  W’ell get to the root cause of your pain and devise a game plan to solve it long term! Learn more about us by clicking the link: About Us

neck pain therapy

If we do wake up with neck pain, what can we do about it?

Try Out These Exercises!

These are some common exercises we use after that first visit to start getting you moving again and getting the pain to calm down outside of the clinic. Notice, that we not only target the neck, but also those that surround it!

If you remember from the little anatomy lesson above, this “crick in your neck” is typically caused by some segments of the spine moving too much and others that don’t move enough. This is the reason behind these exercises, but I want you to watch closely… because although they seem simple… the majority of people do them incorrectly. Pay attention to the cues we give, because they are very important!

If you are continually waking up with neck pain, this is not something that is just going away on its own. It will continue to happen unless you address the root cause of the issue. If you are in the Charlotte area and aren’t sure if something needs to be done to take care of your pain, please reach out! We would love to answer your questions and help get you back on track! 

Thanks for reading!

-Dr. Leah

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