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How To Get Rid Of Neck Pain & Sleep Well?

a profile image of TSA author Alex

Written By Alex Petrović

Certified Sleep Consultant

Woman with pain in the neck

3 April 2024 6 min read

Sleep, although one of the basic functions of the body, can be very easily disturbed. Sleep problems may be the result of external factors that are simple to solve, but even more often medical conditions are one to blame. So, let's tackle one of these issues – how to get rid of neck pain?

You certainly don’t want to start the day tired and lacking in energy because you slept very poorly. But this is not a rare case for all those who suffer from numerous medical conditions. When you take a closer look at the symptoms of most disorders, sleep problems are almost always present.

Disorders of the musculoskeletal system are no exception. If you feel pain and discomfort in any part of the body, it will be difficult for you to fall asleep and every movement during the night will be painful and that is why you will wake up often. Segmented sleep cannot be considered a good night's sleep.

Neck and spine problems are one of the most common, not only in the elderly but also in the young. In this article, we have covered the most common causes of neck pain and how to get rid of neck pain in these cases.

What are the common causes of neck pain?

a man holding his neck due to neck pain.

The neck is the part of the body that connects the head and torso. It consists of vertebrae, which are part of the cervical spine, muscles, nerves, arteries and much more. Muscles, bones and ligaments are responsible for movements, inside the neck are parts of the digestive tract, endocrine gland and important blood vessels.

That is why the causes of neck pain can be varied. You may injured certain muscle or you have a thyroid problem. It is impossible to mention all the potential causes, but we have given our best to go through the most common causes of neck pain.

Improper sleep posture

An image of a woman holding her lower back due to back pain.

Have you ever heard of Occam's Razor, the problem-solving principle? If you never heard of it, it states that the simplest solution is almost always the best. So you should first consider the possibility that your sleep positions cause neck pain.

This is a problem that by far most often experience stomach sleepers. Everyone has their favorite sleeping position and finds it hard to fall asleep in different position. But stomach sleeping exposes your neck to a great pressure and twist for hours and that is why it often causes pain. If you can't change your sleep position, then it's important to have a suitable pillow. Side and back sleeping can also put a strain on your neck if your mattress or pillow is not suitable.

Stress, anxiety & depression

We cannot imagine a life without stress. That is really nowadays. Stress can cause anxiety and depression. Over 20% of adults in the UK have shown symptoms of anxiety or depression at least once. How to deal with these problems is a whole ‘nother story. The Hugging pillow is one of the new methods to cope with it, but it is not the topic of our article.

What interests us at the moment is how stress and depression can cause neck pain. Although it may seem illogical, when you are tensed it can negatively affect the nerves, muscles and bones. Untreated anxiety can lead to chronic neck problems. So don't forget to address that issue as well.

Muscle strain & tension

An image of a man in suit suffering from a muscle strain.

The neck is sensitive and therefore muscle strain and other injuries are not uncommon. Any sudden movement can lead to muscle strain. Whiplash is a neck injury that occurs during a car accident or after a hard hit in contact sports. When a swift back-and-forth movement of the neck occurs, it resembles a whip movement and hence the name.

Tension in the neck can also occur if your neck is in the wrong position while sitting at work. If the neck is exposed to prolonged strain, it is almost certain that pain and discomfort will occur. Then you will feel the need to stretch but that is not always the best solution. We recommend that you consult with professionals.

Disc degeneration

The causes of disc degeneration can be various. It can be congenital, such as Klippel-Feil syndrome (KFS), cervical vertebral fusion syndrome. In case of congenital fusion condition surgery is necessary. But disc degeneration is much more common as a result of aging. When osteoarthritis occurs, the space between the vertebrae narrows down leading to pinched nerve.

It can also happen that degeneration starts after an injury. You will probably need to do an X-ray of the neck so that the doctor knows if surgery is needed or more conservative approach is sufficient.

Spinal cord injury

An image of a woman suffering from spinal cord injury.

When talking about spinal cord injury, complete spinal cord injury that causes paralysis is probably first thing that comes to your mind. There are spinal cord injuries that are not so serious, but they can still cause you a lot of problems.

Since the spinal cord extends all the way up to the medulla in the lower part of the brainstem, it is natural for the spinal cord to pass through the neck as well. If an injury or degeneration of the vertebrae occurs, then it can put pressure on the spinal cord and therefore you will feel pain, stiffness, numbness and other symptoms.

Concussion

An image of a man with an injured head.

Concussion is the most common type of traumatic brain injury. It temporarily affects brain functioning. The extent to which it affects brain function depends on the grade. There are grades 1, 2 and 3. Grade 1 is mild without loss of consciousness, while grade 3 can have long-term consequences.

Many patients who have experienced a concussion complain of neck problems, both immediately after the injury and for weeks and months after. As concussions are caused by blows to the head, falls, whiplash and other similar traumatic experiences, neck pain is one of the symptoms along with headache, dizziness and blurred vision.

Fibromyalgia

an image of a man suffering from neck pain

Fibromyalgia is a very tricky long-term condition that is still a great unknown to doctors and scientists. Although there is an opinion that it occurs when the level of chemicals that are in charge of pain processing is disturbed, there is no solid evidence. That is why there are no cures for this disorder, only treatments to make everyday life bearable.

Whole body pain, sensitivity to pain, lethargy, headaches and insomnia are some of the common symptoms of fibromyalgia. In general, the symptoms are similar to rheumatoid arthritis, but fibromyalgia does not affect life expectancy and is therefore considered a less dangerous condition, although it significantly impairs quality of life.

Neck pain certainly does not mean that you have fibromyalgia, but if you do not know exact diagnosis after many examinations and you still experience musculoskeletal pain, then you should consider this condition as well. And if you're diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a good mattress could ease some discomfort at night.

Meningitis

An image of a man suffering from meningitis.

The brain is surrounded by fluid and membranes. When fluid and membrane inflammation occurs, it is called meningitis. The most common cause of meningitis is viral infection, but it can also be bacteria, fungi, cancer or the side effect of a drug. Sometimes it is difficult to diagnose meningitis, because each patient tends to have different symptoms.

In the beginning it is impossible to distinguish meningitis from flu. But after a while, extremely severe headaches, rash, diarrhea, vomiting, seizures and stiff neck may occur. Meningitis can be fatal and is therefore considered a medical emergency. If you notice other symptoms, not just neck pain, consult a doctor. In some cases, meningitis goes away on its own, but you should not take any risks.

Heart diseases & heart attacks

An older man suffering from a stroke.

Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the UK. About 100,000 people in the UK experience a heart attack every year, which means one person every five minutes. About 10% of heart attacks are fatal. If the patient goes to the hospital on time, the chances of complete recovery are excellent.

Nearly a million and a half people currently living in the UK have recovered from a heart attack. The reason why mortality is so high is that many do not realise that a heart attack is ongoing, but ignore the symptoms. Pain in the neck, arm and jaw is one of the main symptoms. Also, constant neck pain, especially in women, can be a sign of chronic heart disease.

Thyroid conditions

According to The British Thyroid Foundation (BTF) at least one in 20 people have a thyroid problem. The most common is Hashimoto's thyroiditis, which is an autoimmune disease. Slowly, over time, the thyroid gland loses its function and does not produce enough hormones.

Also, there are conditions when the thyroid gland is overactive. In both cases, the thyroid gland may be bigger than normal and that can be seen on ultrasound. An enlarged thyroid gland presses on parts of the neck leading to neck pain. An enlarged thyroid gland is not always visible to the naked eye, so if you notice neck pain, fatigue, hair loss, weight gain and dry skin, make an appointment with an endocrinologist.

How to get rid of neck pain at home?

An image of a woman suffering from a neck and back pain, due to poor quality pillow.

There are effective ways to get rid of neck pain at home if the cause is not serious. These methods are recommended when you have a minor injury or have slept uncomfortably. If you have any other accompanying symptoms and neck pain persists, we advise you to avoid any activity until you have been examined by a doctor.

After all, quite a few conditions can cause neck pain and it's better to leave it to a professional than to self-medicate. So, to reiterrate, the following tips are only for alleviating a bit of discomfort in cases where there isn't a serious underlying condition causing the neck pain.

Put an ice or heat pack on your neck

An image of a woman putting an ice pack on her neck

Heat and cold therapies are often recommended for minor soft tissue injuries. When you apply cold gel, spray or ice, blood flow in that region is reduced and thus inflammation and swelling. You should not apply cold for too long for two reasons. The first reason is not to damage the skin, and the second is to avoid slowing down the healing process too much.

If you apply heat, you will reduce discomfort and stiffness. Usually cold is recommended for the first 48 hours, followed by heat.

Over-The-Counter medicine

an image of drugs and medications

OTC is a medicine that you can buy without a prescription. This means that you can consume such medicine without consulting a doctor, and they are safe as long as you follow the instructions. You can find them everywhere, even in grocery stores. In case of neck pain, ibuprofen is the best choice to ease neck pain and relaxes muscles.

Dehumidifiers can also make the bedroom warmer by sucking moist air and then blowing warm, dry air back. You will most often encounter two types – condensate dehumidifiers and desiccant dehumidifiers. There are also devices of various sizes, from very small ones, not bigger than a teapot, to gigantic ones that have special purposes.

Do not turn off the dehumidifier when you turn on the air conditioner, as the two devices work best together.

Careful stretching

If you woke up with a feeling of discomfort in your neck, you can try to stretch. Be very careful, because stretching can be counterproductive if you are not careful or if it is a more serious injury. Stretching can be a great prevention, so try yoga or some similar type of stretching.

Massages & acupuncture

Again, we need to be careful in order not to do more harm than good. Make sure the massage therapist and acupuncturist have all the necessary licenses and experience. Massage and acupuncture can be very beneficial, but they can also worsen the injury. There are pressure points that can significantly relieve pain, but also improve night's sleep.

Limiting activity that activates neck muscles

The first day you feel pain, do not try to continue physical activity as if nothing is happening. This will almost certainly make the injury worse and prolong your recovery. Give your body time to heal, while avoiding sports. However, you should not be inactive for weeks, because your muscles will atrophy and there is a chance that you will get injured as soon as you return to sports.

Chiropractic treatment

The internet is full of satisfying videos of chiropractic treatments. But mostly they bring only instant relief without long term benefits. Many do not recommend chiropractic treatments in the neck region at all. If you do decide to do so anyway, it would be a good idea for a chiropractor to check your X-ray first. You may have some degenerative changes or problems with your arteries.

How to prevent neck pain in the future?

Sooner or later, the neck pain will probably go away. But that doesn’t mean it won’t reappear, maybe very soon if you don’t take certain steps. When the pain stops, it's time to pay attention to prevention, before the problem becomes chronic. We have singled out some of the things that everyone should do, regardless of whether you have already had neck pain or not.

Get rid of stress

A happy family found their perfect hybrid mattress

That's easier said than done, but it must be your priority to get rid of stress. Neck pain is just one of many problems that can occur as a result of stress. We have already mentioned that stress negatively affects muscles and nerves, and this will be just the beginning of your problems.

To begin with, it is necessary to sleep 7 to 9 hours, because the connection between sleep and stress has been proven. Then it is important to learn how to behave during stressful situations and not to overstate the importance of certain things. Also, if possible, change what is causing you anxiety, whether it is your place of residence, your job or something else.

Change your sleep position

An image of a young bearded man in a deep sleep stage.

It is very possible that you have been sleeping in the same position since early childhood. So it will not be easy for you to change sleep position. But in some cases it is necessary to do so, because your neck can no longer withstand the strain when you sleep on stomach.

Start gradually by trying to lie on your side or back for at least half an hour. At first you will still have to turn on your stomach to fall asleep, but over time you will notice that you can fall asleep while lying in another position. After a few weeks it will become normal to sleep in a new way and neck problems should disappear if the sleep position was the culprit.

Get regular exercise

a woman exercising breathing through yoga

Every healthy person should practice at least 150 minutes of vigorous physical activity a week. Also, it is recommended that you make 10 or more thousand steps a day, and your smartphone can help you calculate how many steps you make daily.

If you have neck problems, then you also need exercises that are adapted to strengthen the neck, without causing some other injury at the same time. It is important to perform all the exercises correctly, because you can injure your neck or some other part of your body. That's why most people choose to work with personal trainers or physical therapist.

Get a new mattress and pillows

An image of Layezee 600 pocket mattress on a divan bed base in a bedroom.

You probably don't know how important pillows and mattresses are. If you have an old or unsuitable mattress and pillow, it will have far-reaching consequences for your health. The quality of your night's sleep will be poor, and you will wake up with pain in different parts of your body.

You need to know when it is time to buy a new mattress and pillow. A high quality mattress can last up to 10 years, and the pillow should be changed every 2 to 3 years. It is important to choose appropriate sleep products for your sleep position, because the needs of side and stomach sleeper are very different, for example.

Ensure ergonomic seats & environment

An image of an ergonomic chair

You spend a third of the day in bed and that’s why you have to think about the mattress and pillow. But there is still two-thirds of the day remaining when you mostly sit or walk. That's why you have to pay attention to your shoes and chair. If you sit in the office for 8 hours a day, it is very important to have an ergonomic chair.

Also chairs or a sofa in your living room is very important. While you are relaxing and watching TV, you must be comfortable, otherwise the pain will occur before you go to sleep and thus disrupt the night's sleep. Comfortable and new footwear is a must, because although feet and neck are distant, the body functions as a chain, and when one link is missing, the functioning of the entire chain is endangered.

Limit smartphone time

There are numerous reasons why you should limit your smartphone time. The two most notable reasons are neck pain and sleep. When you bend and place your head forward to look at your smartphone, your cervical spine suffers a great deal of strain. There is even a condition called text neck, so you realise how serious and frequent this problem is. You should think about raising your phone up, not lowering your head.

Blue light emitted by smart devices disrupt sleep cycle. Limiting smartphone use, especially an hour or two before bed, is very beneficial. Instead, read a book or listen to music.

Conclusion

Once you experience neck pain, all you will think about is how to relieve neck pain. The situation can be much more complex than you think. Of course, the cause can be an uncomfortable pillow or minor strain, but it can also be a serious underlying medical condition.

If the pain is mild and does not last long, there is probably no reason to worry. But if it lasts longer and intensifies, then it is necessary to seek professional medical advice. Whether it is a major injury, disc degeneration or something else, such as heart problems, medical help is needed.

Once the acute problem disappears, take care of your pillow, mattress, chair and shoes. You also need physical activity, and techniques like massage, acupuncture and chiropractic can be great for neck pain relief. And if you have any tips of your own on how to get rid of neck pain, be sure to let us know in the comments!

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About the author

Alex Petrović
Sleep Consultant
A CPD certified Sleep Consultant with more than 2000 hours of research into all the different ways we can get a great night's sleep. As a former insomniac, I know how difficult life can be without a nightly recovery and I love that I get to share everything I've learned with you all. So hopefully we can all sleep soundly!
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