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January 31, 2018 - TCO

Stop waking up with a sore neck

The alarm chirps, you hop – or crawl – out of bed, and start to stretch the sleepiness out of your body until your morning comes to a screeching halt because suddenly you can’t. move. your. neck.

Waking up to a stiff neck is like catching a cold: so common that we tend to brush off the misery it causes. We grimace while gingerly showering and dressing, dismiss the (often excruciating) pain with an “oh, I just slept on it wrong” and spend the next day or days locked into a rigid self-preservation posture which actually does more harm than good. It also distracts us from nearly everything we attempt to do, and all we want is for it to please just GO AWAY NOW!

So why does this happen, how do we get back to our normal, limber selves, and what can we do to prevent it from recurring?

Causes of a stiff neck

Causes include sleeping in an awkward position (yes, this includes stomach sleeping) or tossing and turning throughout the night. Pillows are common culprits, whether you use too many or one that offers little to no support. Sometimes, though, your neck was tightening up before you hit the hay. Stress and anxiety are big contributors, as is improper posture while seated (especially for those of us who tend to hunch over computers). Overuse or minor injuries from sports and fitness activities can shift from slight soreness to full-on spasms overnight. And any movement or accident that causes your neck to suddenly jerk can often bring on a major pain come morning.

(Although these are the most common causes, stiff necks can also be a sign of something more serious, like cervical disc issues, arthritis, or, rarely, meningitis. Be sure to consult your doctor if neck pain is accompanied by high fever, nausea or worsening pain in your neck or elsewhere.)

Treatment for a stiff neck

Home treatment is a fairly straightforward approach: Minimize the pain and maximize movement as much as possible. But be sure to do both because you won’t want to keep moving if it hurts too much, and decreased motion will cause things to tighten up even more — and for longer.

  1. Soothe
  • Take an OTC pain medication like ibuprofen or acetaminophen to relieve pain and combat inflammation.
  • Turn to heat and/or ice, the yin and yang of muscle ailments. Ice helps by reducing inflammation; heat encourages blood flow.
  • Rub essential oils in and around the area. Peppermint, lavender, basil and rosemary are all good for reducing muscle spasms and inflammation. Blend with a carrier oil like sweet almond or coconut and massage your neck down into upper back/shoulders throughout the day.
  • Soak in a warm Epsom salt bath. The magnesium and heat work together to relax tight muscles and moods. Or simply stand under a hot shower, letting the spray massage the stiff spots.
  1. Stretch
  • Slowly tilt your head from side to side, pulling your ear toward your shoulder. Do this a few times, then roll your head in circles, first in one direction and then the other. Now try to look over your left shoulder and hold for a few seconds; repeat on your right side. Don’t push past pain; you’re just trying to keep that spasm from freezing solid. Repeat this sequence a few times, then place your first two fingers on your chin and gently push back, keeping your upper body stationary. This simple motion repositions your head and neck to their proper alignment.
  • Lie down with a small bolster or rolled-up blanket or towel under your neck. The diameter should be large enough to provide a small lift. Keep your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, and lightly pull your shoulders down as you relax into the stretch.
  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and knees slightly bent. Slowly bend at the waist, letting the weight of your upper half pull you toward the floor. Gently move your head from side to side, letting your arms hang loosely.

Preventing a stiff neck in the morning

Assuming you worked out the kinks, stopped the spasms, or untied the knots, we’re guessing you hope to avoid reliving that particular nightmare. Did you just knock on wood, too? Here’s the thing: We can’t guarantee you won’t suffer a stiff neck in the future, but we can offer advice on how to minimize your odds.

  1. Pull away.

Get those shoulders as far from your ears as you can and stop hunching over as you work at your computer, eat, read or engage in other seated activities. And stand more while you do these things, as it tends to encourages better posture.

  1. Stay active.

Regular stretching and exercise are key to keeping bodies flexible. The more sedentary you are, the more susceptible you are to this a.m. ailment.

  1. Rest well.

Do all you can to improve your sleep quality and quantity, and snooze on your side if possible.

  1. Relax more.

When you go with the flow and decrease your stress levels, the looser your muscles will be.

If home treatments have been unsuccessful and you’re still struggling with chronic neck, back or spine issues, or if the stiffness and pain is accompanied by persistent arm pain, numbness, or weakness, schedule an appointment with a TCO spine and neck care specialist at one of our convenient locations.