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Simple Fixes for Sleep-Induced Neck Pain

Ever woken up with a stiff neck, feeling like you slept on a rock? You're not alone! Many people experience sleep-induced neck pain, often caused by improper sleeping positions or unsupportive pillows. Learn how to avoid it from happening with our PT tips. Too late and you're already suffering? We can help with that too - no prescription required, just make an appointment to see us. 

Neck pain, or discomfort in any part of the neck, can strike when you least expect it. Approximately 10% of adults experience neck pain at any one time, with females being more affected than males.

The length of neck pain can vary. The pain can be classified as acute (lasting less than six weeks), subacute (lasting six to 12 weeks), or chronic (lasting more than 12 weeks). While most cases of acute neck pain resolve quickly with self-treatment, some people can experience neck pain for much longer periods.

While there are many causes of neck pain, one of the more common culprits is sleeping in the wrong position. Other causes of neck pain include muscle or ligament strains, arthritis, or a pinched nerve.

As the quality of your sleep impacts your overall well-being and health, you'll want to determine what's causing your neck pain from sleeping and find ways to relieve it.

Causes of Neck Pain From Sleeping

Neck pain from sleeping is caused by a few different factors, including sleeping position and the mattress and pillow you're sleeping on.

Certain sleep positions, such as sleeping on your stomach with your head turned to one side, are more likely to cause pain. Poor sleep positions can cause you to develop muscle strain in the neck. This can lead to pain, stiffness, and spasms (involuntary, sudden tightening) of the neck and upper back muscles. To prevent neck pain, it's better to sleep on your side or back.

Using the wrong pillow or mattress can lead to pain over time. Make sure to choose a supportive, medium-firm to firm mattress and a pillow that works for your sleep style.

If you sleep on your back, you can place a small pillow under the knees to relax the neck muscles and flatten the spine. To ensure your back is in a neutral position, you may also want to place a small, supportive pillow under the nape of your neck. If you sleep on your side, choose a pillow that keeps your neck in a straight line with your body.

How to Get Relief From Sleep-Related Neck Pain

Most cases of minor, sleep-related neck pain can be safely treated at home using a combination of hot and cold therapy, neck exercises, massage techniques, and over-the-counter medications.

Hot and Cold Therapy

Both heat and ice therapy can help relieve neck pain. Apply ice during the first 48 to 72 hours of neck pain, and then use heat after that period is up. To use heat therapy, you can take warm showers, apply a heating pad, or use a hot compress for 10 to 15 minutes.

When using ice therapy, you can apply a frozen towel, a bag of ice, or even a bag of frozen vegetables to the area. To protect your skin, always wrap the cold pack in a thin, dry cloth before placing it on the neck. Leave the cold pack on the neck for 15 to 20 minutes and repeat every two to four hours until pain symptoms improve.

Always take caution when applying heat and ice to the skin. Follow safety instructions on the label of hot and cold pads or hot compresses to avoid damaging the skin.

Neck Stretches and Exercises

If you have neck pain, avoid physical activity for the first few days to reduce swelling and inflammation.3 After this period, you can try neck stretches and exercises to help relieve minor neck pain, which will help to strengthen and stretch the neck muscles.

If your pain is minor, you can do a series of slow range-of-motion exercises to gently stretch the neck muscles, such as moving your neck up and down, from side to side, and from ear to ear.

If your pain is moderate to severe, visit a healthcare provider before trying any neck stretches or exercises at home. They can properly assess your neck pain and provide the best type of exercise or course of treatment. Unless otherwise advised by a provider, avoid neck exercises if you are suffering from a pinched nerve in the neck or if you have pain or numbness in the arm and hand.

It's best to perform your neck exercises after heat therapy or after warming up your body with a few minutes of cardiovascular exercise.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Pain Medication

To relieve and manage neck pain, you can take over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen (such as Advil) or acetaminophen (such as Tylenol).4 Make sure to follow the dosing instructions on the product label. If you are experiencing chronic neck pain and feel the need to take OTC medications daily, talk to your healthcare provider about other options.

Massage Techniques

Massage techniques can help relieve minor neck pain. Give yourself a gentle neck massage on any sore areas, or ask someone else in your household to gently massage painful areas of your neck—just be careful to not apply too much pressure.4 You can also choose to see a licensed massage therapist who specializes in treating people with neck pain.

Stress Reduction

Emotional stress can delay your recovery and increase tension in the neck. Try techniques to reduce your level of emotional stress, such as deep breathing, meditation, or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a structured form of talk therapy that helps you reframe your way of thinking to reduce symptoms of stress and mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.

How to Prevent Neck Pain

Neck pain can be uncomfortable and painful, but fortunately, there are ways to prevent neck pain from occurring in the first place. Try the following tips to prevent neck pain:

  • Sleep on your back or side. These positions help support optimal spinal alignment, which will help to prevent and reduce neck, shoulder, and back pain.
  • Use a supportive pillow that's designed for a back or side sleeping position.
  • Use a medium-firm or firm mattress. Research shows sleeping on a medium-firm mattress reduces bedridden pain, back discomfort, low back pain, and pain from rising.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

In many cases, minor neck pain can be treated at home with self-care and OTC pain medications, but some symptoms of neck pain signal a need for medical help. Visit a healthcare provider if you experience any of the following with the onset of neck pain:

  • Severe pain
  • A serious neck or head injury
  • Symptoms lasting after one week of treatment at home
  • Numbness, weakness, or tingling in your arm, hand, or legs
  • Neck pain that gets worse when you lie down
  • Neck pain that disrupts your sleep
  • Loss of your ability to control bowel movements or urination
  • Difficulty with walking and balancing
  • Swollen glands or a lump in your neck
  • Trouble with swallowing or breathing

Having a stiff neck—being unable to touch your chin to your chest—along with a fever and headache could indicate meningitis. If you experience these symptoms together, seek emergency medical care right away.

If you have neck pain along with arm or jaw pain, sweating, shortness of breath, vomiting, or nausea, you may be experiencing heart attack symptoms. Call 911 or get emergency medical care immediately.

If your symptoms are not an emergency but are still causing you pain or discomfort, you can make an appointment to visit a healthcare provider. At your appointment, your provider will perform some tests to observe your ability to move your head to the left and right, front and backward, and side to side. They will also assess your movement of the neck and shoulders, posture, and muscles in your neck, head, shoulders, and upper back to find the areas of pain. You may also be tested for strength, sensation, and reflex.

Depending on the severity of neck pain, you may be prescribed a muscle relaxant, pain reliever, or steroid to prevent swelling. If there is nerve damage alongside neck pain, your healthcare provider may refer you to a neurologist, neurosurgeon, or orthopedic surgeon for further assessment.

A Quick Review

Neck pain can be caused by sleeping in the wrong position, such as sleeping on your stomach, or by using a worn or unsupportive mattress or pillow. It's best to sleep on your side or back with a medium-firm or firm mattress and a supportive pillow designed for your sleeping position.

To reduce minor cases of neck pain, you can perform neck exercises and stretches, take over-the-counter medications, gently massage the sore or painful area, use hot or cold therapy, and incorporate relaxation techniques or therapy to reduce your level of emotional stress.

If neck pain persists or gets worse despite self-treatment at home, or if you experience other painful symptoms, see a healthcare provider or go to a hospital if it's an emergency.

Don't let neck pain disrupt your sleep! Our qualified physical therapist can create a personalized treatment plan for your neck pain. Contact us today at (561) 278-6055. Follow us on Instagram @millerphysicaltherapy for more tips and advice.

Reference: [https://www.health.com/how-to-relieve-neck-pain-from-sleeping-8385897]

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