Dr. Jeremiah Jimerson

761 Saint Andrews Blvd Charleston, SC 29407

Can Sleeping Wrong Cause Neck Pain?

You wake up one morning and all of a sudden you have a kink in your neck or neck pain, sometimes along with a headache that just won’t go away. Did sleeping wrong cause your neck pain?

This happens all too often. I see this in dozens of cases of this every single week. Patient comes in with neck pain out of nowhere when they woke up and assume that they slept wrong causing their neck pain.

This morning I saw a young woman named Jessica who told me that she “must have slept wrong” because she woke up with neck pain and a little bit of a headache and it felt a little better after she stretched and took a shower. I’ll be honest, I actually got a little giddy because these are typically such easy to fix cases. Here’s why:

While many people sleep in strange positions and that can contribute to their neck pain, there are typically other imbalances that caused this issue in the first place.

We typically feel more pain first thing in the mornings, late at night, or during longer periods of time of rest.

Have you ever been in a long car trip and you get out of the car and hobble around for a bit until your muscles get warmed up a bit and then you feel better?

Same concept.

You may have done a bunch of computer work and put extra stress on your neck muscles. Perhaps your posture isn’t the best and that puts stress on your neck muscles. Maybe you did yard work a few days ago and as you started getting fatigued or tired you inadvertently start using your neck muscles to get the job done.

Whatever the stress on your neck muscles, often you don’t feel the pain while you are in motion for a few different reasons:

  • Your muscles are nice and warm and loose when you are moving around and doing things. If a muscle is like a rubber band, at rest, your rubber band cools down and gets tighter. As that tight muscles gets tighter, it starts putting pressure on other sensitive structures like joints, nerves, discs etc. Hence one reason why you wake up feeling worse and feel slightly to moderately better once you’re up and moving around.
  • Another big reason is a neurological one. If you’ve ever slammed your finger in a drawer, the first thing you do (aside from swear) is you rub and shake the area. Unknowingly you are stimulating nerve fibers that synapse in the same area of the brain as the pain fibers. But these fibers that you are stimulating with rubbing transmit information much much quicker than pain fibers. When they synapse in the brain, they override the pain fibers and dumb the pain down.

So while yes, it is super important to sleep with a good pillow supporting your neck, it is perhaps more important to play detective and figure out what exactly caused the neck muscles to get so tight in the first place.

Weak muscles is often a big cause of waking up with neck pain.

In one instance I might see a competitive athlete with muscles bulging all over the place. You would never think, but they often have some of the worse weaknesses. An athletes might have a few weak core muscles, but they are so determined to do the activity that they will use every possible other muscle to over compensate for the weakness.

When I was dealing with chronic lower back issues for a decade, I couldn’t wrap my head around while I was still in pain despite doing “core” muscle exercises. What I didn’t realize was to do whatever advanced exercise I was attempting, that I had to grit my jaw, tighten my neck and shoulders and squeeze my toes into the ground to get the job done. One of the big reasons why I would wake up with headaches and neck pain after my workouts.

Sometimes the weak muscles come from poor posture.

Let’s face it. We hunch forward an awful lot as a species.

We hunch watching tv, on our phones, on our computers and laptops, driving cars, reading books, eating….

The muscles that pull us forward get super tight, short and weak.

The muscles that should pull us back get super tight, long and weak.

When our posture is hunched forward, for ever inch our neck juts forward, it puts 10 pounds of pressure on our neck and upper back muscles.

Imagine those muscles clenched tight, all day long driving, sleeping, watching tv… They clench so tight that not only are they choking off their own blood supply, but they can’t get rid of their waste products as well. Leading to sore, cranky and inflamed muscles and ultimately scar tissue and myofascial adhesions.

Again, in motion, you aren’t often going to feel the majority of your pain. It’s at rest when you feel the worst. When your muscles are cooled down and movement isn’t turning off the pain.

We often get up and get moving, perhaps make some coffee, take a hot shower and the muscles warm up and the pain subsides a bit and you forget all about it until the next morning. Blaming your pillow.

This is where a good chiropractor or physical therapist shoulder come into play. They should be like a detective, figuring out where exactly did your neck pain come from instead of treating symptoms.

For more information on how to wake up without neck pain, call us at 843-873-6004



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