If you wake to neck pain in the morning
Just as the day is a dawning
Your neck will lock tight
You’ll look quite a sight
From something that struck with no warning
“I must’ve slept funny…”
I hear this a lot as an explanation for a pain that appears for no obvious reason when waking. It seems strange, doesn’t it, that something can go wrong with just your normal bed and pillow? But maybe this is just a convenient scapegoat. After all, as humans we always want to be able to blame something. And if you wake to a pain that wasn’t there before, it’s natural to suspect the last thing you were doing before the pain – sleeping!
I hear this so often that I think there must be some truth in sudden movements first thing before the neck is warmed up and ‘ready’ for action. But it’snot necessarily correct just because the sleeping came before the pain. So did a lot of other things – like brushing your teeth, but you wouldn’t think to blame that, would you?
Now there are times when you CAN blame sleeping funny. For example, falling asleep with your neck at an unusual angle, like when it’s on the arm rest of a sofa, or if you used a pillow you’re not used to: too high or too low. This is most likely to happen in a strange bed or if you’ve been ill with flu and using a weird combination of pillows to help with your symptoms.
But a far more likely cause of that unexplained waking pain is a mild injury done in the day or two before causing inflammation to build up at night when you’re relatively still and inactive.
The inflammation ponds up and seeps into the surrounding muscles causing them to tighten. And when you suddenly start to move first thing, hey presto, then you feel that unexpected stiffness. You may even get sudden spasm if the stiffened neck joints are moved too much too soon before that inflammation has had a chance to be cleared with gentle movement. So if you want to reduce the chances of this happening, watch out for sleeping with your head and neck at strange angles, and make a habit of moving your neck slowly first thing. I’ve had more than one patient come in after making a sudden twisting and reaching out movement to switch off the alarm clock!