Possible Causes of Neck Pain in the Morning

Written by Jamie Page
Physiotherapist, Salford University
Medically reviewed by Dr Gina Arena
Research Fellow, University of Western Australia
Reviewed on June 28, 2022

Woman in bed waking up with neck pain

Sleeping in the wrong position often results in neck pain or stiffness.[1] An awkward head position during your sleep can cause the muscles and ligaments in your neck to be overstretched for hours.

Often, the type of pillow you use and your sleeping position is the one to blame for your sore neck. Fortunately, there are things you can do to relieve some of the symptoms and prevent this injury from happening again.

What are the symptoms of a stiff neck in the morning?

A stiff neck is usually accompanied by soreness and difficulty moving the head due to pain. It may also affect the muscles connecting the shoulder and neck and may result in headaches.

What causes neck pain after waking up?

Occasionally, neck pain and stiffness occurs due to poor posture and overuse of neck muscles. In addition, sleeping in an awkward position can strain the muscles and soft tissues in your neck.

Pillow height

During your sleep, your head and neck are positioned on a pillow for many hours. This is why choosing the right pillow is essential for the health of your neck muscles and ensure a pain-free good night sleep.[2]

Memory-foam pillows can support your head and neck to allow a neutral spine positioning during your sleep. This reduces the tension in your neck muscles and prevents neck pain and injuries.

Abrupt movements

Getting up too quickly and other sudden movements can strain your neck muscles. In addition, frequent turning and tossing while sleeping can also strain your neck muscles. Therefore, it is essential to stretch and exercise your neck muscles to make them strong and resilient to injuries.

Other causes of neck pain when you wake up

Your daily activities also take a toll on your body, which can manifest the next day and contribute to waking up with a painful neck. Here are some of the most common causes of neck pain:

  • Poor posture such as forward headed and rounded shoulders

  • Working in front of a computer for an extended amount of time

  • Osteoarthritis of the cervical spine

  • Spinal disc problems

  • Nerve irritation or compression due to disc herniation in the cervical spine.

How to deal with neck pain in the morning?

Waking up with a painful neck is an unpleasant experience and can affect the rest of your day. Here is what you could do to help lessen the pain:

  • If you wake up with a sore neck, you can apply ice or cold packs to the painful parts of your neck for 20 minutes. This will help reduce the inflammation in your muscles and prevent the symptoms worsening.

  • If you are having pain for more than a day, a heat pack may help to reduce muscle spasm and help your muscles to relax. Apply a heat pack to the painful areas of your neck for 20 minutes.

  • If the pain is severe and affecting your work, over-the-counter pain medications may help. Before taking medicinal drugs, remember to consult your doctor if you have an underlying condition.

  • One of the most effective treatments for muscle pain and injuries is exercise. Gentle stretching exercises can help relax your muscles and keep the blood flowing in your neck.

If you are still experiencing pain for more than a week, consult a physiotherapist to eliminate your pain and restore normal motion in your neck and spine.

Neck exercises

Here are some simple yet effective neck exercises you could do regularly to keep your neck muscles strong and prevent injuries:

1. Neck rotation exercises

  • Stand tall and look straight.

  • Slowly turn your head to the left side until you feel a gentle stretch on the right side of your neck.

  • Hold for 30 seconds and turn your head to the opposite side and hold.

  • Repeat for 3 times on each side.

2. Neck side bending exercise

  • Stand tall and look straight.

  • Using your right hand, gently bend your neck towards the right side while looking straight. You should feel a gentle stretch on the left side of your neck. Hold this for 30 seconds.

  • Relax and return to the starting position.

  • Do it on the opposite side.

  • Repeat for 3 times on each side.

3. Dumbbell shrugs

  • Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart.

  • Look straight and maintain a straight spine.

  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand. You could also use water bottles for this exercise.

  • Gently move your shoulders up towards your ear. Feel the contraction of your upper back and neck muscles.

  • As you approach the ear, hold for 2 seconds and gently lower the dumbbell back to the starting position.

  • Repeat for 10 times.

Consult a physiotherapist

Neck pain or stiff neck often resolve on its own. However, if your neck pain is getting worse and does not go away after a couple of days, it is better to consult a physiotherapist to help you recover from your injury.

It is vital to consult a physician if you are having red flags or unexplained symptoms such as:

  • Headache

  • Fever

  • Shortness of breath

  • Swollen glands

  • Lump on your neck

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Paralysis

  • Difficulty controlling your bladder or bowel

  • Pain, numbness or tingling sensation radiating to your arms and legs

How to prevent morning neck pain?

Your body is strong and resilient. There are things you can do to minimise your risk of injury and live a pain-free life. Here are some of the things you can do to prevent neck pain:

  • Avoid sleeping on your stomach.

  • Put a pillow between your legs when you sleep on your side. This can help keep your spine in a neutral position when you sleep.

  • Avoid using pillows that are too high. This can put excessive stress on your neck muscles and may result in injury.

  • Use feather pillows or memory-foam pillows. These pillows contour well with your head and neck, allowing your skull and cervical spine to be fully supported when you sleep.

  • Replace a sagging mattress. Use a medium-firm mattress that allows good support in your neck and back.

  • Use your phone at eye level to prevent forward bending of your neck and reduce unnecessary stress on the soft tissues of your neck from your daily phone use.

  • Physical activities keep your muscles strong and promote healthy blood circulation to the soft tissues around your cervical spine. Exercise regularly to improve your posture and reduce stress to your muscles.


Having a sore neck after a goodnight sleep can be frustrating and can interfere with your daily activities. Fortunately, most cases of neck pain can heal on its own with proper rest and home remedies.

It is essential to make your sleeping environment comfortable to avoid waking up with a painful neck. Your posture also plays a crucial role in your physical health. That’s why it is recommended to do regular exercise to keep your neck muscles strong and resilient to stress.

Written by Jamie Page
Physiotherapist, Salford University
Published on June 28, 2022
Medically reviewed by Dr Gina Arena
Research Fellow, University of Western Australia
Reviewed on June 28, 2022
Medical reviewers
Last medically reviewed on June 28, 2022
BookPhysio.com has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.
  • 1.

    Cary D, Jacques A & Briffa K. Examining relationships between sleep posture, waking spinal symptoms and quality of sleep: A cross sectional study. PLoS ONE 2021 [cited 2022 June 8];16(11): e0260582.

  • 2.

    Yamada S & Yamada K. 1215 improving sleep disorders and chronic neck pain by adjusting height of the pillow through cervical posture management. Sleep 2020 [cited 2022 June 8]; 43 (1): A464.

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