Waking up with a sore neck can put a real crick in your day. A sore neck makes it difficult to turn your head and can cause stiffness, pain, and discomfort. Though annoying, a sore neck is usually not a cause for concern. In most cases, the soreness is temporary and will go away on its own within a few days. Here is an overview of the common causes of a sore neck and some tips for soothing the pain.
Causes of a Sore Neck
There are several potential causes for neck soreness:
Sleeping in an Awkward Position
Sleeping in an uncomfortable position can put strain on the neck muscles and cause them to become sore. For example, falling asleep in a chair or on the couch with your neck bent can lead to pain the next morning. Using too many pillows or a pillow that is too thick or thin can also misalign your neck and spine, leading to muscle tightness. The best sleep position to avoid neck pain is lying on your back without bending or twisting your neck.
Muscle Tension and Stress
When you are stressed or anxious, you may unconsciously tense your neck and shoulder muscles. Carrying this tension throughout the day can make the muscles fatigued and sore. Stress also makes it more likely that you clench your jaw or grind your teeth at night, which adds to neck tension.
Slumping or having your neck bent forward for long periods can strain the neck muscles. Text neck – the posture formed from looking down at your phone – is a common source of soreness. Using computers without proper monitor height and staring down at laptops can also contribute to poor neck posture.
Any type of injury to the neck area can cause soreness. This may include whiplash from a car accident, a fall or impact that strained the neck, or an athletic injury. Contact sports where the head gets jarred around may also lead to a sore, stiff neck.
Certain viral infections can cause neck pain and stiffness along with fever, headaches, and other flu-like symptoms. Meningitis, which is an infection of the membranes surrounding the spinal cord, also commonly causes neck stiffness along with severe headaches and fever.
Osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis affecting the cervical spine can lead to chronic neck pain. Arthritis causes swelling and damage to the joints and discs, which leads to pain that is worse with movement.
Treating a Sore Neck
Here are some remedies and treatments for relieving a sore neck:
Applying a heating pad or warm compress to the neck provides soothing relief. The heat helps relax tense muscles and improves blood flow. Take care not to scald or burn yourself.
An ice pack wrapped in a towel can also help reduce neck pain and inflammation. Use ice for 20 minutes at a time to numb sore muscles.
For moderate pain, over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, naproxen or aspirin can help reduce inflammation that may be contributing to neck pain. Acetaminophen also helps relieve soreness.
Seeking professional massage therapy can help loosen up tight neck muscles and address restricted range of motion. Targeted trigger point therapy may also help release knots and spasms in the neck.
Stretching and Exercise
Doing gentle neck stretches and exercises improves flexibility and blood circulation in the area. Move your neck slowly up and down and side to side. Shoulder shrugs and rolls also help loosen muscles.
Making sure to maintain proper upright posture, especially when sitting at a desk or computer, prevents neck strain. Use an ergonomic chair and situate the monitor at eye level.
Sleep with a pillow that adequately supports your neck and keeps your spine aligned. You may also try using a special ergonomic pillow.
Letting hot water run on your neck and shoulders in the shower helps relax the muscles. Finish with a cool rinse to reduce swelling.
Try relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or Tai Chi which can help relieve muscle tension caused by daily stress. Getting a massage can also relax tight muscles.
When to See a Doctor
In most cases, it’s fine to treat a sore neck at home. But see a doctor if pain persists over a week or two and limits your mobility. Also get medical care for severe neck pain after an injury or accident. Intense stiffness and pain could signal something more serious like meningitis or bone damage. Seek emergency care if neck pain occurs along with neurological symptoms like numbness, tingling, weakness in the arms or legs, loss of bladder or bowel control, or difficulty standing or walking. This may indicate a spinal cord injury.
A sore neck is a common annoyance that usually resolves in a few days. Try over-the-counter medication, hot/cold therapy, massage and stretching to relieve symptoms. Proper posture and ergonomics can help prevent neck soreness. If significant pain persists for more than a couple weeks, consult your doctor to rule out any serious condition requiring treatment. With some patience and TLC, your neck should be feeling better in no time.