Right after waking up from a good night’s sleep, nagging neck pain is not what you would want to face at the start of the day. The medical term for such pain in the neck after waking up is “torticollis”. The neck is twisted to one side while being stuck with your head, causing the muscles to go into spasm.

Although you may be unable to move your neck at the start due to pain, normally it is nothing serious. The pain usually settles within a day or two with some simple exercises and sleeping posture adjustments. Few cases end up being chronic and need medical help. In the meantime, you can take painkillers to keep the pain in check.

How Neck Stiffness Develops During Sleep

The vertebrae refer to the seven bones connected by spongy shock-absorbing “discs”. A network of muscles and connective tissue supports the structure. The bones protect the spinal cord that runs through a canal. When any of them is subjected to damage or strain, it causes neck pain.

Cause of Sore Neck When You Wake Up


According to research, sleeping problems may very well be at the root of 5% of new cases of chronic neck pain. However, the factors affecting neck pain when sleeping can be easily controlled by adjusting some normal activities.

Awkward Angle

Your sleeping position plays a vital role in developing neck pain. Sleeping on your stomach causes your head to be in an awkward position with the body. As a result, your neck stays twisted at the side for an extended period. This can stretch and strain your neck muscles, ligaments, and joints causing the neck to be sore and stiff in the morning.

Sudden Movement

Sudden movement out of nowhere such as rolling over or reacting to a dream, flinging your fingers, sitting up quickly, etc. can cause muscle strain. Continuous tossing and turning while you are trying to sleep, or sleeping, can also have some negative effects on your neck muscles.

Preexisting Injury

Injuries that you may have sustained before such as whiplash, sports injury may very well be the cause of your sore neck. Interestingly, you may not feel any pain initially. However, after a few days, when you wake up after a good night of sleep, you will very likely feel a very sore and stiff neck.

Other Causes of Neck Pain When You Wake Up

Waking up with neck pain may involve some other causes as well. Some of them are as follows.

  • Maintaining poor posture all day.
  • Staring at a computer or mobile for too long without any break and changing position.
  • Nerve compression.
  • Osteoarthritis in an upper spinal joint.
  • Strenuous activity.

Signs and Symptoms

The symptoms are very obvious, but you will get a general idea about the severity of the problem with the symptoms known. The most common of them are discussed below.

Pain and Stiffness

The pain starts in the middle or either side of the neck, generates shoulder pain, and reaches the upper part of the chest. Your neck and shoulder start to be stiff and you may feel tension headaches. Furthermore, you will have trouble moving your neck and it won’t turn as far as it normally does.

Muscle Spasms

Muscle spasms refer to the sudden stiffening of a muscle or a group of muscles in the body. This can occur anywhere in the body and it is completely normal. However, this unpleasant experience can occur in the neck as well.

Muscle spasms generate pain in one side of the neck, making it difficult to turn your head. It usually lasts a few hours or days. Taking over-the-counter painkillers and applying ice or heat packs will help in this case.

Clicking and Grating Noises

After waking up with neck pain, you will hear a clicking or grating noise whenever you try to move your neck. This is called ‘crepitus” and it is caused by tissues or bones in the joint moving over each other.


The arteries that run alongside the spine are known as vertebral arteries. Pinching of these arteries can cause you to feel dizzy when turning your head. Occasionally, this also causes blackouts where the blood flow is temporarily reduced. When this happens, it is best to seek medical attention as some other causes may be involved.

When You Should Worry


It is very rare for neck pain to develop into something serious. However, there are some cases when you should get checked out just to be safe.

  • You feel constant numbness and weakness as well as persistent pins and needles in your arms.
  • Previously sustained trauma such as whiplash injury or sports injury.
  • The pain gradually getting worse.
  • The neck bones are tender.
  • If the patient has medical complications such as cancer or rheumatoid arthritis.

Quick Fixes to Loosen Up a Sore Neck


When you have something important to do, neck pain is not something you would imagine to deal at the start of the morning. Therefore, here are some quick fixes to quickly loosen up your stiff neck within a few minutes.

Start Moving Your Neck Gently

Start small and slow. Move your head around in small circles while avoiding neck strain. Over time, increase the size of the circle slowly and carefully. Make sure your head is in a pain-free range of motion. You must not push it to the point where it hurts. Slowly your muscle will start loosening up.

Try Upper Trap Stretch

To do an upper trap stretch, let your head drop to the side gently and see if you feel any pain. If you do not feel any pain except a gentle stretch, try to overpressure with your hand. Maintain a pain-free range of motion here as well. Hold the stretch position for about six seconds and do it six times for both sides.


The final fix for you is some self-massage. To do it effectively, you can make use of a ball such as a beastie ball or tennis ball. Firstly, you should stand up and hold the ball against the wall. Secondly, work your way around your neck, shoulder, and spine.

If this does not prove to be effective, lay on the floor and try doing the same. However, this is an aggressive position and you may not be able to tolerate the pain. The right way to go about this is to take your time and do it gently.

Treatments for Neck Pain

Conditions Home-Based Treatments  Medical Care
Muscle Stiffness
  1. Heat pack
  2. rest
  3. exercise
  4. gentle stretching   
  1. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), naproxen sodium (Aleve), and acetaminophen (Tylenol, others)
  2. Muscle relaxers
  3. Acupuncture
Degenerative Disc Disease   
  1. Cold Therapy or heat pads
  2. Meditation
  • Injection of Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, aspirin
  1. Using cold packs
  2. Physical Therapy
  3. Ice or heat therapy
  4. Yoga 
  1. Over-the-counter pain Relievers
Manipulation of Cervical Spine
  1. Therapeutic massage
  2. Stretching, performing strengthening exercises
  1. Medicated epidural injections

Dos and Don’ts


There are some things that you can do and some other things that you must not do to avoid neck pain issues. Some simple day-to-day precautions can easily reduce the risk of neck pain.


  • While working on a computer, face it directly and put it in a position so that the screen is at eye level.
  • When working from home or office at a desk, remember to take frequent breaks and stretch regularly.
  • Make sure your head is over your spine instead of bending forward.


  • Try your best to avoid sleeping on your stomach.
  • Use a memory foam pillow.
  • The height of your head should be enough to match the natural curve of your neck while sleeping.

How Long Neck Pain Lasts From Sleeping Wrong

Every adult in their life has come across neck pain after sleeping wrong at some magnitude. However, most of them got out of such an inconvenient situation after a few moments or days. Therefore, a stiff neck is expected to improve with a few medications like gentle movement, pain assessment, and heat or ice therapy. 

Shortly after applying medications, you will start seeing improvement. Gradually, the pain will resolve itself within a week or two.

Severe Neck Pain After Sleeping


The issue of a stiff neck is pretty normal and common. However, waking up with severe neck pain is a different case. Neglecting this issue can result in chronic pain.

Reason Behind

Waking up with a stiff neck generating severe and sharp pain can be an issue of worry. The main reason for this is obviously, awkward sleeping position. However, some other factors play their roles here.

Things with neck muscles can go wrong with overstretching and putting excessive stress on the neck. Also, wear and tear, degenerative conditions, osteoarthritis in the discs, and vertebrae in the neck are some other causes behind severe neck pain. If such severe pain lasts for weeks, then one must seek the help of a medical professional.

What to Do

Firstly, you must avoid any sudden movement and refrain from doing strenuous exercises. Secondly, you should be careful about your posture and habits all day. Also, your pharmacist can advise you of over-the-counter painkillers, heat packs, and muscle gels to initially counter the pain.

If the pain persists and is accompanied by other medical conditions such as back pain, loss of sensation, and headaches, you should consult a healthcare professional. Similarly, if you have suffered from an injury to the neck or any of the upper parts of the body recently, you must seek medical treatment as quickly as possible. 


As mentioned before, waking up with neck pain is completely normal and most of the time nothing to stress yourself out for. Although, you need to go through some routine therapy or medications to fully recover from such an inconvenient situation.

Dr. Miller and his staff from Delray Disc and Spine offer non-surgical neck treatment that treats any type of pain related to the neck. You can easily get the details and set up a free consultation on any of the three workdays on their website.

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