Woman sitting up in bed, holding her neck in pain while husband sleeps behind her

How to Stop Waking Up with Neck Pain

Beep, beep, beep…the blare of your alarm clock alerts you that it’s time to get up.  As you rise to sit up, you feel a sting start in your neck and upper shoulder. Ouch! As you reach to turn on your lamp on your bed stand, you notice you can barely turn your neck! Eeek..! 

Not the best start to your day. 

Neck pain and stiffness after waking up in the morning is very frustrating and at times can be very debilitating.  Strain to the muscles and ligaments of the neck are typical culprits of waking up with a “crick in the neck.” The good news is the majority of cases ease within a few days to a week and are very preventable.

What causes neck pain in morning?


There are several causes of a stiff and sore neck when you wake up in the morning. These can include improper pillow use, poor posture during the day, and the lack of fitness to your upper back muscle and neck muscles.

The Improper Pillow

One common cause of neck pain is the use of an improper pillow.  A pillow that positions your head either too high or too low can put strain on the muscles and sensitive structures of the neck resulting in pain and stiffness. 

Poor Posture

Poor daily posture can put you at risk for morning neck pain.  We put strain on our necks everyday from the long sessions we spend staring at our iPhones and computers with poor head posture. This strain to the neck muscles, ligaments, and discs accumulates and causes our necks to be more susceptible to strain when sleeping at night.  Another postural culprit is the propped up neck position while reading a book at night.  Over propping your neck can put it into too much flexion and add stress to an already strained muscles and ligaments of the spine. 

Lack of Fitness

As I mentioned earlier, we do a lot of gazing at devices and, unfortunately, we lead mostly sedentary lives. According to the this CDC study, 25% of Americans spend more than 8 hours a day sitting. 44% report doing no moderate to vigorous physical activity at all weekly.

The combination of sedentary work and lack of fitness predisposes us to overuse of the sensitive structures of the neck. It can also accelerate the normal age related changes of the important supportive structure of our neck.

How do you fix morning neck pain for good?

What are some quick ways to relieve neck pain?

PRO tip 1: Sleep with a proper pillow:

If you are a side sleeper, use a pillow that allows your spine to remain in line, not bent to one side or the other. The same is true for back sleepers.  Again, use a pillow that doesn’t place your neck either too far forward or backward.

positions of neck when using various pillows

(Image Source: https://www.comfycentre.com/best-pillow-for-neck-pain/)


PRO TIP 2: Improve your spine mobility and strength of Postural muscles:

One of my favorite exercises that I educate patients on to help improve postural muscle endurance and mobility is the Wall Angel.


This exercise targets the middle and upper spine to improve mobility, and it helps engage the important postural muscles that support the neck all day.

PRO Tip 3: Use some heat to ease neck tension:

A hot shower or hot pad can ease a stiff neck. Add to this a some light self-massage to the tight muscles along the side of your neck and base of skull, and it will help improve both pain and stiffness. As the pain and stiffness improves, begin to add some easy neck rotations and shoulder rolls.



Pro Tip 4:Improve your fitness and say goodbye to morning neck pain:

By simply adding daily walks and light to moderate strengthening exercises of our neck, back, and leg muscles a few times a week, you can improve your postural muscle ability to combat the prolonged positions we put our necks in everyday. If you are at the gym, start with lat pulldowns and rows.  If you don’t have a gym membership, purchase a thera tube and perform both of these exercises at home a few times per week.



When to See a physical therapist or my doctor for a Stiff Neck?

If your stiff neck is not improved after a week, it should be checked by a physical therapist for an examination.  The PT will assess your neck mobility, muscle tension, strength, and reflexes to determine if this issue is truly a musculoskeletal issue or something more serious. If your neck stiffness is ever accompanied by any red flag symptoms such as double vision, drop attacks, difficulty speaking, or headaches, you should be seen by a medical professional immediately.


At Move Empower Concierge PT, we treat patients with neck pain daily.  Our highly skilled manual therapists will perform a thorough evaluation and provide you with effective treatment and education so you can quickly get back to the active, pain-free lifestyle you desire. 


Don’t let neck pain keep you up at night or off the golf course.  Call 512-659-5615 or or click here for a Free Discovery Session to speak with one of our specialist physical therapists today.

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