Man wakes up with pain - learn how to relieve neck pain after sleeping

How to get rid of neck pain from sleeping wrong

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Starting your morning with new neck pain from sleeping – oof! Talk about waking up on the wrong side! Waking up with neck pain can make the simplest movements – like turning your head to say good morning – into painful endeavours. Here’s some advice on how to help get rid of neck pain from sleeping wrong so you can get back to turning your neck freely and happily.

Neck pain in general is caused by strain to the muscles in your neck. Occasionally, it can also be ...caused by pinched nerves or herniated discs in your cervical spine – the medical term for the vertebrae that make up your neck. Neck pain from sleeping is caused when your neck is out of alignment with the rest of your spine. This can be a result of sleeping position, too many pillows, not the correct type of pillow, or other sleep issues.

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Causes of neck pain from sleeping

Neck pain from sleeping means your day isn’t going to be quite right. Learning what causes neck pain after sleeping can go a long way in helping you prevent the painful, joy-reducing phenomenon. So, what causes neck pain... after sleeping? There are a number of likely suspects.

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  1. You slept in a funny position
    On your back, on your stomach, or curled into a tight ball. Sleeping positions can be highly individual. However, some positions are better than others when it comes to keeping your neck pain-free in the morning. For instance, sleeping on your stomach is likely to cause a stiff neck since it means your neck is twisted to one side or another for hours at a time.
  1. You slept with too many pillows
    While stacking up a bunch of pillows to plunge your head into as you go to sleep may seem luxurious on first consideration, this poufy mountain of fluff can actually keep your neck out of alignment while you sleep. In other words, your neck muscles will be strained for hours. Make sure your neck is in line with the rest of your spine when you fall asleep.
  1. You slept with the incorrect type of pillows
    Different pillows provide different types of support. Again, it’s all about neck alignment. If your neck is bent out of shape while you sleep, you’re likely to wake up with a stiff neck. Be sure to use a pillow that properly cradles your head to ensure your neck is in what is known as neutral position – i.e. aligned with the rest of your spine.
  1. Sudden movements
    Sitting up quickly, or jerking your head around in a dream, may cause strain and tension in your neck muscles, leaving you to contend with a stiff neck when you wake up. Likewise, tossing and turning in your sleep may put your neck in some less than ideal positions, thus leaving you achy and stiff in the morning.
  1. Previous injury
    If you previously injured your neck – for instance, due to trauma in an accident or contact sport – symptoms may not appear right away. Therefore, you may go to bed feeling fine, but then wake up with a sore or stiff neck.
  1. Osteoarthritis
    Osteoarthritis is a condition in which the cartilage that cushions the bones between your joints becomes degraded, resulting in stiffness, pain, and limited range of motion. You may experience osteoarthritis in your cervical spine, i.e. your neck. Osteoarthritis symptoms can often feel more pronounced for the first 30 minutes after waking up, after hours of inactivity. This is one reason you may be waking up with a stiff neck.
  1. Nerve compression
    Nerve compression occurs when a nerve is squeezed or compacted. A compressed nerve is also referred to as a pinched nerve. You may feel pain, numbness, or muscle weakness at the site of compression. If you experience nerve compression in your neck, you may wake up with neck pain.

How to help get rid of neck pain from sleeping wrong

Neck pain treatment can be achieved largely with home remedies. In order to remedy neck pain from sleeping, consider trying the following activities:

Woman stretching and gently massaging her neck to loosen her muscles and ligaments
  1. Stretching and self-massage
    Gentle stretching and self-massage can help loosen the muscles and ligaments in your neck that have become tight and stiff after sleeping. You may not be able to complete all stretches at first due to your neck stiffness. That’s ok. Do what you can. The goal is to gradually increase and restore flexibility. Gently tilt, bend, and rotate your neck to loosen your neck muscles and regain... full mobility.



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Man applying an ice+D6 pack to his neck, an effective neck pin remedy.
  1. Ice or heat therapy
    Apply an ice pack wrapped in a thin towel to your neck for up to 20 minutes a day. This can help reduce inflammation. Alternate cold therapy, with heat in order to soothe and loosen tight neck muscles. Consider taking a hot shower or applying a Voltarol heat patch. Voltarol heat patches can be worn for up to 8 hours for soothing warmth that relaxes tight muscles on the go.
Graphic showing how Voltarol Gel works on the neck
  1. Over-the-counter pain medication
    If your neck pain feels particularly bothersome, consider taking an over-the-counter pain medication. Voltarol gels can be rubbed on your neck for 3x more effective pain relief.* Voltarol gels help fight inflammation, reduce pain, and speed recovery. They do this by delivering diclofenac, a potent non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), specially formulated as an emulgel which penetrates through the skin to the root of your pain. Or, you may want to consider taking an oral tablet to relieve your pain.

    *Voltarol Pain Relief 1.16% Gel in acute neck pain vs placebo
Man sleeping in bed with two pillows
  1. Get the right pillows
    Make sure you’re using pillows that properly cradle your head while you sleep and keep your neck in alignment with the rest of your spine – keeping it in what’s called neutral position. This means your head won’t be tilted up toward the ceiling or sloped down toward the floor while you’re asleep. Instead, it will keep your shoulders aligned with your ears, keeping stress off your neck muscles.
Woman using a neck pillow to support her neck
  1. Support your neck throughout the day
    If you’ve got a long commute home or even if you’re lounging in front of the tv, consider using a horseshoe-shaped pillow in order to prevent your head from dropping to one side if you doze off.

With these tips at the ready, you’ll get back to joyful movement in no time. 

Treatment by pain type 

Learn all about the causes, symptoms, and pain treatments for the type of pain you’re experiencing so you can get back to doing those little things that bring you joy.