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It is really horrible to wake up with stiff neck first thing in the morning. Your initial instinct is to blame sleeping in the wrong position as the culprit, but actually there are numerous other reasons that may be causing your condition. Starting your day with a sore neck can ruin the rest of it, especially if it sticks around. If you can figure out what is causing your discomfort, you have a better chance of knowing how to prevent it as well as possible treatment options.
Why Do You Wake Up with Stiff Neck?
1. Your Pillow
You may not realize how important your pillow is to achieving a good night’s sleep. Its primary function is to keep your head in a neutral position, preventing problems like waking up with stiff neck. If it is too fluffy, your neck will be pushed forward. If it is too flat, your neck will go too far down. Ideally, your nose is in line with your spine. You want a pillow that will form to your neck, like a memory foam or feather version.
2. Your Sleeping Position
If you are sleeping on your stomach, you are doing your neck a disservice. When you sleep downward, you put stress on your neck because you have to turn your head. It may be hard to do at first, but you need to break yourself from this habit and sleep on your back or side.
3. Wear and Tear in the Neck
The joints in your neck are the same as the ones in the rest of your body. They wear down with time and can develop cervical spondylosis, a type of arthritis. This is a natural occurrence that comes with age. Possible symptoms include neck stiffness, radiating pain to arms, hand and leg numbness or tingling sensations in extremities. Typically, a couple weeks of treatment will resolve your issues.
4. Pinched Nerve
When a nerve in your neck is squashed and it results in pain, it is often referred to as a pinched nerve. Typically, it is a result of a spinal disc opening causing the internal gel to push out onto a nerve. Older individuals have a greater chance of developing this condition as discs start to get more rigid. Painkillers can help with the pain. However, sometimes therapy or surgery may be needed.
5. Other Possible Causes
There are several other possible causes for waking up with stiff neck:
- Muscle spasms can occur anywhere in your body, including your neck. When one occurs, it causes the muscle to contract and stiffen.
- Emotional stress can result in tense muscles. If you are under a lot of pressure, you may feel as neck pain.
- Fibromyalgia is a disorder which involves achy joints and painful muscles, both of which can cause a stiff neck.
- Meningitis is an infection affecting the fluid around your spinal cord and brain. This is a very serious condition that can result in death. A stiff neck, as well as a headache and fever, is a common sign of the illness.
How to Relieve the Stiffness
1. Rest Your Neck
Can you believe your head weighs about 20 pounds? Your neck is the only thing supporting it. When you have time, give your neck muscles a chance to rest. Waking up with stiff neck may be an indication you are overworking it. Lie down when you can, making sure you have a pillow that keeps your head and neck in the right position.
2. Stretch Neck Muscles
When you plan on stretching any muscle in your body, you should warm it up. This includes your neck. Consider applying a hot towel or taking a hot bath before starting. Moderation is key when it comes to stretching. Simple stretches include:
- Turn your head slowly to the right. Use your right hand to put slight pressure on your chin, gently pushing your head to move a little more. Keep this position for 15-20 seconds and then slowly move your head back to starting point. Repeat, this time on left side.
- Tilt your head until your chin touches your chest. If you cannot push your chin that far, just get as close as you can. Make sure your shoulders are relaxed as you do it. Hold for 15-20 seconds. Repeat again.
- Tilt to the right, trying to lay your right ear to your right shoulder. Do not lift shoulder to meet your head. Using your right hand, gently push on your temple to apply pressure. Hold this position for 20 seconds. Repeat on other side.
- Lay down on your back with a pillow supporting your head and neck. Bend your knees. Gently nod your head as if saying yes. Hold like this for 15 seconds. Lower your head back down and relax. Repeat 8-10 times.
3. Relax Neck
- If you wake up with stiff neck, you may want to consider massage therapy. There are also techniques that allow you to self-massage the area. Just make sure to use gentle pressure and stop immediately if your pain gets worse.
- Magnesium is also known for its relaxing properties. Consider taking a supplement, but do not take more than the daily recommended dose.
How to Prevent Waking Up with Stiff Neck
1. Mind Your Pillows
- Choose a pillow that best suits the way you sleep. If you sleep on your side, you want a pillow that will keep your head in a horizontal position. If you sleep on your back, you want a pillow that does not tilt your chin in to your chest, but rather keeps it horizontal. Pillows made of memory foam give good support so you might want to give one a try.
- If you prefer a feather pillow, keep in mind that it will need to be replaced at least once a year. While great for support when it is in good shape, a flat feather pillow will lead to a stiff neck and even may cause headaches.
- Your physician may suggest you sleep without a pillow for a short while, especially after you get your neck worked on. Sometimes this can help prevent stiff neck in the morning and other related symptoms.
2. Ensure Firm Mattress
The days of keeping a mattress for twenty years are over. Now experts suggest replacing it every seven to eight years. An old mattress cannot provide support for your neck and spine. You can try flipping your mattress, but some are not made to do that, such as pillow top versions.
3. Avoid Stomach Sleeping
Teach yourself to sleep on your side or back if you are a stomach down sleeper. You increase your chances of waking up with stiff neck if you sleep on your tummy because your head has to be turned the entire night. At least start sleeping in one of the better positions so if you move stomach down you at least slept some of the night not straining your neck.