Why Does My Neck Hurt When I Roll My Head?

If you’ve ever rolled your head around and felt a twinge or sharp pain in your neck, you’re not alone. Many people experience neck pain or stiffness when moving their head from side to side or tilting their head forward or backward. There are a few potential causes for this common problem.

One reason your neck may hurt when you roll your head is muscle tightness or spasms in the neck. The neck contains many small muscles that connect to the base of the skull, shoulders, and upper back. These muscles can become tight and knotted up due to poor posture, sleeping in an awkward position, or just normal wear and tear. When you go to roll your head, the tight muscles in your neck resist the motion and cause pain. The sharp, stabbing pain is likely a muscle spasm as the tense muscles rapidly contract.

Another source of pain with head rolling is strain of the neck ligaments. Ligaments connect bone to bone and provide stability and structure. If you roll your head too far or too fast in one direction, you can overstretch the ligaments on that side of the neck. This leads to ligament strain and that intense soreness felt during head rolling. The pain worsens when you return your head to neutral because the damaged ligament is stretched further.

Arthritis in the neck vertebrae and discs can also make it very painful to roll your head around. The joints of the cervical spine allow flexible head movement, but arthritis stiffens these joints and reduces mobility. Bone spurs caused by osteoarthritis can impinge on nerves as you roll your head, leading to sharp pain. Degenerated discs lose shock absorbing capacity, so the vertebrae rub together painfully when you tilt and turn your head.

The way to alleviate pain with head rolling is to gently stretch and strengthen the neck muscles. Massaging knotted neck muscles can loosen tightness and restore range of motion. Apply ice packs to strained ligaments to reduce inflammation. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories help both muscle and ligament pain. Check your posture and sleep position to avoid future tightness. See a doctor if pain persists to address potential arthritis in the neck. While annoying, occasional neck pain with head rolling is rarely serious. Give your neck muscles tender loving care and the problem should resolve.