Most neck injuries begin while you sleep. Even if you injure your neck doing some other activity, what you might not realize is that you’ve compromised your neck by sleeping improperly; a more severe injury at this point is inevitable. That’s why it’s crucial that you maintain and support the natural curve of your neck by using the proper pillow as well as an optimal sleeping position.
Improper Pillow Support
Stomach sleeping is not optimal, as it twists your neck at an awkward angle, as you can see below.
Another common mistake is to pile up pillows, thinking it gives you more support. Even one pillow that is too thick can strain the curvature of your spine and your neck muscles.
If your pillow is too thin and you sleep on your side, this can also strain the muscles on the side of your neck.
Common neck injuries from sleeping in the wrong position include stiff neck or neck strain, acute torticollis and cervical radiculopathy.
Stiff Neck or Neck Strain
Stiff neck is just like it sounds. You slept wrong and tweaked your neck. While the problem is simple the pain often isn’t. If you ignore it, it can lead to more serious injury, especially if you compound it by improper posture. Never ignore any level of neck pain. Take care of it immediately.
If you wake up and your neck is locked into one position and won’t move, or you get out of bed, move your head and your neck suddenly spasms and seizes up, you have acute torticollis. It’s common to blame that first quick head movement. But your problem started while you slept.
This injury happens by not only sleeping with the wrong pillow and in a bad position, but also if you leave your window open and a cold air draught reaches your neck. The muscles get cold and stiff, making your next neck movement possibly your last for a few days.
This neck injury entails pain ranging from sharp to a milder tingly numbness that radiates down the arm and into the fingers, usually as a result of a pinched nerve. The cause can also be more serious, like a herniated disk. See your chiropractor or doctor to determine the severity of the problem.
Your neck is like a conduit for every nerve ending in your body. If it’s not supported properly while you sleep, you can pinch one or more of these nerves, causing some serious pain and discomfort.
Neck Injury Treatment
Always see your doctor or chiropractor if you’re in severe pain. If your pain is mild to moderate, take ibuprofen regularly to reduce the inflammation. Wrap your neck in hot towels or apply a hot water bottle to the area that hurts the most. Be kind to your neck and don’t ignore the symptoms.
Try the following gentle exercises in the mirror, making sure you don’t shrug your shoulders. Practice good posture as best as you can:
- Neck Retraction: Tip your head slowly back, keeping your chin pointed at the ceiling. Only go as far as you can. If it hurts, return to the neutral position and repeat more gently.
- Ear to Shoulder: Slowly drop your left ear to your right shoulder, as far as you can go. Return to the neutral position. Repeat for the right side.
- Rotation: Turn your head to the left, as far as is comfortable. Return to a neutral position. Repeat on the right side
- Flexion: Slowly bring your chin toward your chest. Return back to neutral position. Repeat.
When you sleep, avoid neck injury by making sure you’re supporting your neck with proper pillow as well as an optimal sleeping position. Check in with your neck regularly to gauge your level of pain or discomfort and treat the problem immediately.
Next up—Common Sleep Injuries Part Two: Shoulder Pain