Have you experienced waking up in the morning with a stiff neck? If you have, you know the feeling of not able to turn your head because of the pain and the discomfort. Stiff neck can limit your range of motion and can bring sharp and even excruciating pain. While people can still go to work and go about their daily business, having a stiff neck is quite a hassle.

Muscle strain or sprain is the usual cause of neck stiffness. It may develop because of over-training, sports-related injury, or bad posture. It may also occur after sleeping. So why exactly stiffness of the neck occurs after sleeping? Let us find out.

Sleeping Position and Stiff Neck

The person feels the pain, discomfort and limited movement upon waking up. However, the stiffness really develops and occurs during sleep; and this is largely because of the person’s position while sleeping.

  • If the neck or head is set at an awkward angle for a period while sleeping, chances are, you’ll get a stiff neck in the morning. This is because the awkward angle can stress and stretch the muscles, joints and ligaments in the neck and surrounding areas.
  • Sudden movement also causes your neck to become strained and sprained. People tend to suddenly move their head when reacting to a dream or while rolling over their bed.
  • You may also have a preexisting injury that is worsened by an improper sleeping position. Some injuries, like whiplash, may take hours before the stiffness and pain set in.

Treating Stiff Neck After Sleeping

The important thing to do upon waking up with a stiff neck is to immediately apply home remedies. There are things you can do alleviate the pain and discomfort, and to allow your neck to regain movement. The following are some remedies you can try at home:

  • Ice therapy. Do this before anything else. Do not apply heat yet like warm water unless you resorted to ice therapy first. Applying ice packs on the painful area helps reduce the swelling. Do this for about 10 to 20 minutes at a time.
  • Heat therapy. Applying heat helps reduce the discomfort and pain. It relaxes the muscles and eventually improve the person’s range of motion in the neck and shoulders. Just place heating pads on the affected area and let it stay there for about 10 to 20 minutes. You may also get a hot shower. This will not only help relax and loosen the muscles, but will also improve blood flow.
  • Self-massage and gentle stretching. The ice and heat therapy is helpful in providing initial relief. For additional relief, you may massage your neck and shoulders. Doing this will further loosen the ligaments and muscles. You can also do gentle stretching. Do not force it. Just gradually and gently stretch your neck. This helps increase flexibility and improve the range of motion.When you are stretching or massaging your neck, just make sure that you are not increasing the pain. If you feel pain while doing it, stop.
  • Pain medications.  If you cannot tolerate the pain or if already affects your daily routine and activity, then you may take over-the-counter medications. You may take anti inflammatory medications or pain relievers. Just take note that these meds do not really treat the stiffness, but only provide temporary relief. These meds will provide relief for sore muscles which may be causing the stiffness.
  • Epsom salt. A salt with epsom acts as a natural muscle relaxant. It is found to reduce swelling and pain due to muscle strain. Because of this, the salt proves to be an effective temporary remedy for stiff neck. Just add two cups of the salt to warm or hot water in your bathtub. Then you will just have to soak your body in the salt-water mixture for about 20 minutes.
  • Activity modification. Assess the level of pain and discomfort. If you are unable to move your head or if the range of motion is greatly affected, it is best that you take a day off from work or school. Avoid strenuous activities. Full bed rest is discouraged though, as it could in fact worsen the stiffness. Moving and walking around is still encouraged. Just do not do heavy lifting and the like.

After applying the above-mentioned home remedies, you may gradually experience relief and improvement. However, in some cases, it may take a day or two before you experience pain relief and other improvements. Normally, you can expect things to get back to normal within a week’s time.

Get Back Your Normal Life Again

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Preventing Stiff Neck

If the cause of stiff neck is related to sleeping, then it can be prevented. There are simple things you can do and must remember in order to reduce or prevent the development of stiff neck during sleep.

  • Consider your position while sleeping. As much as possible, do not sleep on your stomach. This position makes you rest your head sideways, to the right or left. There is misalignment which can put more stress on the cervical spine and the neck. The recommended position is to sleep on your back. This is pretty much a relaxed position, with less stress on the spine and better alignment. Sleeping on the side is also great. For other people, sleeping on a reclined position works too. Just keep your neck in a relaxed position as much as you can.
  • Use the right pillow. The right pillow depends on the person. What works for you may not work for others. Comfort is the key. Your sleep position may also dictate the right kind of pillow to use. If you sleep on the side, you may try placing a pillow between the knees. This promotes proper spinal alignment during sleep. If you like sleeping on the back, you may use a cervical pillow and place it beneath the cervical spine. If you don’t have a cervical pillow, a rolled towel would do. Regarding the kind of pillow to use, always remember that comfort is the key. It is a trial and error affair.
  • Consider the temperature when sleeping. Avoid having your head or neck getting directly hit by cold air blow or a fan. Some people complain about having stiff neck because of this problem. Just keep the room temperature as comfortable as possible.

There are other factors that help prevent the development of stiff neck while sleeping. You may consider sleeping on a firm mattress. It promotes better alignment of your spine. You must also avoid sleeping on places not conducive for sleep such as a couch or chair. People who fall asleep in an uncomfortable position on a chair while watching TV tend to wake up feeling sore and stiff in the neck or shoulders.

Prevention is always better than treatment. While you can, follow the above-mentioned tips on how to prevent stiff neck while sleeping.

If the stiff neck is accompanied by other symptoms, it is better that you contact a professional immediately. Seek immediate medical attention if the stiff neck is serious and is accompanied by severe headache, tingling or weakness, arm numbness and fever.

Seek Help From Pain Specialists

If you have stiff neck problems and other pain issues in the neck, shoulder or back, you should seek professional help. At Arizona Pain and Spine, we have a team of highly-trained and experienced specialists that can provide safe and effective solutions for treating and reducing pain. Make an appointment with us and start feeling relieved and pain-free.