Waking up with neck pain? Try this.

How often do we wake up in the morning with stiffness and pain in the neck? You are not alone. This is one of the most common complain of most people but most people just think it’s just a sign of ageing and that they have to live with it. However, this is not true. You need not have to wake up every morning with this pain and stiffness.

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Choose the right pillow
The most common cause of neck stiffness in the morning is our pillows. Most of the pillows do not support our necks properly. Everyone’s neck is unique in terms of the length, thickness and muscle tension. Thus, unless there is a pillow that is individually customized to your neck, your pillow will tend to be the cause of the stiffness.

Here's why

This is because as we sleep at night, our necks need to be well supported in a neutral position so as to give our muscles a break.

  • If your pillow is too high, your neck will be in flexed position, which puts a fair degree of stretch to your muscles, giving you an ache when you wake up in the morning.
  • When your pillow is too low, your neck is not supported and the joints between your vertebrae in your neck will compress onto each other, causing the stiffness in the morning when you wake up. 
  • If your pillow is too soft, your muscles will be working through the night to help stabilise your neck. The next morning you will wake up with sore and achy muscles.

Contoured pillow? Try this first.
The best way to prevent morning stiffness and pain is to have your neck supported as you sleep. But before you start running off to get a contoured pillow, try this little towel roll trick first to determine whether a contoured pillow will of be any assistance to you.

First of all, you would need to determine whether which type of a sleeper are you: side sleeper, back sleeper or turner in bed. Once you have determined the type of sleeper you are, take a bath towel and try the following:

Side Sleeper – Roll up the bath towel to a thickness of about 2 to 2½ inches (depending on the thickness of your neck). While lying down, your shoulder should be at the bottom of your pillow. Place the towel roll under the side of your neck to support your neck. Ensure that your head is nicely rested on the pillow. This should support your neck and place it in a neutral posture.
Back Sleeper – Roll the bath towel to a thickness of about ½ to 1½ inches. Have your shoulders on the lower border of the pillow and place the towel roll behind your neck. Your head should not be in an extended posture.
Turner in bed – Have the towel roll rolled up to about 1 to 2 inches and place it under your neck. This should attempt to give some form of support to your neck as you turn from side to side to lying on your back.

You should feel more comfortable immediately upon using the towel roll. If you don’t, chances are the roll is either too thick or too thin. Adjust accordingly until you are comfortable. To prevent the towel from moving through the night, you can place the towel roll under your pillowcase or may even want to sew it to your pillow. If this works well, then consider getting a contoured pillow.

What if the stiffness and pain persist?
If the pain and stiffness still persist, it is highly likely that you have been suffering from this for a long time. It would be beneficial for you to seek a few sessions of treatment with a physiotherapist to get your muscles released and joints mobilized before you feel the relief. Also, paying a conscious effort in watch your posture throughout the day would help prevent the stiffness and pain from developing the next morning.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work by Core Concepts - Musculoskeletal Health Group is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Singapore License. This article was contributed by Singapore's Largest Physiotherapy Group - Core Concepts. In the spirit of promoting health education, you may copy, distribute and transmit the work under the conditions specified by the license. For articles re-printed with permission, copyright remains with the original copyright holder (author or publisher). Core Concepts's Creative Commons License does not apply in such cases.


  • http://www.neckexercises.net/ Neck Exercises

    Good information. I like to try the towel roll first before buying new pillows.

  • http://www.kitchensinkfaucetsguide.com/ Romeogshelby

    thats me! I always wake up with a stiff neck and ive been really planning to buy a contoured pillow for this problem….but then i have to tried your tips first, it might work…..this can save me money….thanks!

  • Amlia

    Be sure to choose the right faucets

  • Adenikemashavu

    Thank you for posting this article.  I have 2 contoured pillows and have had them for years.  The problem is that I roll around a lot while I’m sleeping.  When I wake up in the morning….I feel like my neck is broken & both pillows are always on the floor!  I wish I knew how to make myself stay put!  I’ve resorted to muscle relaxers my doc prescribed, but don’t want to become a drug-fiend!

  • http://www.facebook.com/charly.brown.71404976 Charly Brown

    Thank you so much for these tips. I’m going to try this tonight!

  • satyamev.j

    Here is what works for me. I take a soft and thick bed sheet, crumple it and place it under my neck. That way even if I roll in my sleep my neck finds a contour to support it

  • YummiButta

    arrgh!! I woke up this morning and if i look up or down the left side of my neck sends down a streak of pain, but your methods have helped a lot!! Thx!!

  • balaji s

    thanks for kind information and i am gointo try this night…..

  • Adil Ali Chaudhry

    Marijuana. An hour or so before bed. You eill have a good sleep plus no addictive side effects if done on schedule as it is a medicine. Pills have crazy chemicals and most have tar, keep a hold of old tablets for years the tar, rises to the top. Natural medicine doesn’t do that . One love

  • Wade Wilson

    INDICA. Make sure you’re smoking an indica strain, NOT sativa.
    Indica = sedative…sativa = livelier high.

  • outrage

    Waking up with sore neck could be a sign of Bruxism (teeth clenching). Look it up.