Waking Up with Neck Pain: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

Waking up with a stiff neck can be surprising and not fun. Sometimes, it hurts a lot, and you might find it tough to move your head. Even so, some folks still feel like they have to stick to their plans for the day, like going to work or school.

Usually, a sore neck in the morning happens because of how you slept, the kind of pillow you used, or other sleep problems. It could also be connected to something more serious, like an injury or osteoarthritis.

Having a sore neck when you wake up is not a great way to begin your day. It can put you in a bad mood quickly and make simple things, like turning your head, hurt.

In this article, we’ll explore why your neck might hurt in the morning and what you can do to feel better.

What Causes Neck Pain When You Wake Up?

You might not think much about how you sleep or the pillow you use, but they can affect your neck and even cause back pain. Research says sleep issues could be behind up to 5% of chronic pain cases. Luckily, you can make changes to feel better.

Sleeping Position

We all have our favorite sleep positions, but if you sleep on your stomach, it’s not great for your neck. Sleeping this way twists your neck for a long time, making your neck muscles sore and stiff when you wake up. It can also stress your back, especially if your mattress isn’t supportive.

Your Pillow

Your head and neck spend lots of time on your pillow, so choosing the right one is crucial. The wrong pillow can strain your neck muscles and lead to pain.

Pillows like feather or memory foam can support your head and neck well, keeping your spine and neck in a neutral position.

Sudden Moves

Quick movements, like sitting up fast or moving a lot in your sleep, can strain your neck muscles. Tossing and turning or restless sleep can create tension and stress in your neck.

Past Injuries

Injuries like whiplash or sports injuries might not hurt right away. You could feel the effects days later, waking up with a very sore neck even if you felt fine before bed.

Other Causes

There are other reasons for waking up with neck pain. Bad posture during the day, sitting at a computer for too long, or watching TV without changing positions can contribute.

Osteoarthritis in upper spinal joints or nerve compression from a herniated disk or bone spur in your neck can also cause pain.

Home Remedies for Neck Pain Upon Waking Up

When it comes to treating morning neck pain, several self-care remedies can provide relief. 

Ice or Heat Therapy

When your neck is strained, you can use either ice or heat to feel better.

For ice therapy, apply ice for 10 to 20 minutes to help reduce swelling. It’s best to do this soon after the strain.

If you prefer heat therapy, try a warm shower or use a heating pad. Heat helps your muscles relax, which can ease pain and make it easier to move your neck.

Over-the-Counter Pain Medication

If your pain and stiffness are making it hard to move your neck, you might consider taking over-the-counter meds. Some examples are ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen.

Stretching or Self-Massage

Once your neck feels a bit better, you can try gentle stretching or a DIY massage for more relief. Even if some stretches are tough due to pain, it’s okay. The idea is to slowly improve flexibility without making the pain worse.

You can also use your hand and fingers to massage the sore neck area, just be sure it doesn’t cause more pain.

Gentle Exercises

After using these remedies for your stiff neck, check if the pain and stiffness are improving. If your neck is still stiff and moving hurts, avoid tough activities for the day. Opt for gentle movements like walking or yoga instead of complete bed rest, as staying too still can make the stiffness stick around.

These activities keep blood flowing to your neck. Remember, don’t stop moving entirely—staying still can make your muscles tighten up.

Neck Pain Prevention

Preventing morning neck pain is a proactive approach that can significantly enhance your overall well-being. Here are some tips:

  1. Choose the Right Pillow: Find a pillow that supports the natural curve of your neck while you sleep. It might take some trial and error to find the perfect fit.

  2. Sleep on Your Back: If possible, sleep on your back. Some people find relief by placing a pillow under each arm to reduce strain on the neck.

  3. Adjust Your Computer Monitor: Ensure your computer monitor is at eye level. If you’re using a laptop, consider connecting it to a separate monitor to avoid straining your neck by looking down.

  4. Be Mindful of Texting: Texting or looking down at your phone for too long can strain your neck. Raise your phone to eye level, take breaks, and consider using a pillow to support your hands.

  5. Use a Headset for Calls: If you spend a lot of time on the phone, use a headset to avoid tilting your head or holding the phone between your head and shoulder.

  6. Exercise Your Neck: Keep your neck muscles strong with simple exercises. Try the chin tuck exercise throughout the day to maintain flexibility.

  7. Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water to keep the discs in your neck hydrated. Aim for at least 8 glasses a day.

  8. Maintain Good Posture: Poor posture can lead to neck pain. Keep your head and shoulders aligned, and avoid the head-forward posture that adds extra strain to your neck muscles.

When to See a Doctor

If your neck hurts in the morning, you can usually take care of it yourself. But if the pain keeps going for a few days or gets worse, you should see a doctor.

Also, if you have other symptoms like a fever, headache, chest pain, tingling in your arms or legs, trouble swallowing, or issues with your bladder or bowels, it’s important to get medical help right away.

For more guidance, you may make an appointment with our online pain management consultation

Need professional help to relieve chronic pain? Book an online consultation with physical therapist Dr. Olivia Patel.

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Pain Relief Consultation With Dr. Olivia Patel

I'm Dr. Olivia Patel, a physical therapist specializing in helping people with neck, back, and knee pain. Instead of resorting to invasive treatments or surgeries, I use natural and non-invasive remedies to help my clients alleviate their agonizing pain and regain the joy of living a pain-free life. If you're interested in learning about my approach, click the button below to schedule a call with me.