The Truth About Waking Up with Neck Pain

- Health -

4 min read. Written by Shirouz Elango

There you are, awake and about to start your day, and it strikes—sharp, shooting pains that go down your neck. Though it may be a common complaint, waking up with neck pain can be uncomfortable, and make it difficult for you to get through the rest of the day.

Numerous factors can contribute to neck pain. It is important to pinpoint and correct these issues as soon as possible—if left unattended they can lead to chronic injuries and conditions such as arthritis, cervical strain, and posture issues.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at understanding the reason behind waking up with neck pain every day, and some measures to put an end to them.

Why does my neck hurt when I wake up?

The short answer: you’re probably not sleeping right at night.

Research has shown that sleeping issues account for up to five per cent of new cases of chronic pain and stiffness. The good news is that many of these can be addressed and reduced by making simple changes to your sleeping position or pillow.

Reason 1: Incorrect Sleeping Position 

How you sleep matters. While many of us tend to have our favourite sleeping positions, they may not help maintain our spinal alignment and keep our neck pain-free. 

Stomach sleepers especially should be wary, as their sleeping position tends to add strain onto the neck muscles for hours at times. This can put pressure on the spine, neck and back muscles.

How to resolve: Sleeping on your side or back is most helpful for neck discomfort. The best is for you to be able to alternate between these two positions—this prevents stress from accumulating on your shoulder or back while maintaining your spinal and cervical comfort.

Reason 2: Using the Wrong Pillow 

Another common reason that you’re waking up with neck pain could be due to the pillow you’re sleeping on. Considering that we spend a lot of time on our pillows, it is important to get one that maintains our neck in a neutral position to prevent strain. A pillow that is too small or too large will not provide the support that your neck needs, causing it to be painful and stiff. Additionally, a too-soft or too-hard pillow will cause your head and neck to sink into the mattress or adjust in an uncomfortable position, both of which can lead to injuries.

How to resolve: The ideal course of action would be for you to get a customised pillow that fits your unique body shape and sleeping position. If this is not possible for you, the best rule of thumb to follow is to find a pillow that keeps your neck parallel to the mattress, instead of an elevation or a drop. By getting the right type of pillow for your needs, you’ll be able to avoid any further discomfort and possible injury. 

What If the Pain Still Persists?

Neck pain conditions can be complex and may not resolve from a pillow change or switching sleeping positions. There can be plenty of other contributing factors to your persistent neck pain, something a physiotherapist can help to identify and provide a tailored program for.

If you’ve taken the steps above and still find that your neck pain issues are persisting, or are accompanied by other symptoms such as back pain, headaches, or altered / loss of sensation, seek a professional assessment with one of our physiotherapists. We work closely with you to diagnose your condition and help you map out the necessary steps toward recovery. Book a consultation with us today to find out more about how we can help. 


Last Reviewed by Jaden Lim on 17/06/2022