How to get rid of neck pain

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Have you woken with neck pain from sleeping in an awkward position? Often this ache is nothing more than an annoyance, but it can sometimes be extremely painful.

Occasional neck pain from sleeping incorrectly is a common issue.

Deep in sleep, your head can fall into a position that puts unnecessary stress upon your neck muscles. After a bit, your neck may get agitated. Your sleeping brain might do you a solid and command your body to reposition itself so that your neck gets a little relief. Alternatively, you ignore the agitation, exacerbating the strain. As a result, you’ve got a pain in the neck the next morning. Damn you, sleeping brain!

There’s a lot of different things you can do to avoid this sort of neck strain in the future: change your sleeping position, try a new pillow or even, god-forbid… exercise!

You’re probably not very interested in exercise right now. You need quick relief! Any of the following tips can go a long way to eliminating that pain in the neck:

Stretch the muscles in your neck.

It’s always best to warm up muscles before stretching, so it’s advisable to take a hot shower or use a hot compress first. The key with stretching is to not overdo it! Here’s 4 of the simpler stretches recommended by WebMD:

  1. Slowly turn your head to the left. With your left hand, apply very light tension on your chin so that your head turns slightly more. Hold for 20 seconds and return your head slowly to center. Repeat on the right side.
  2. Tilt your head to the left and try to touch your left ear to your shoulder. With your left hand, apply light pressure on your temple. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat on the right side.
  3. Bend your head forward and try to touch your chin to your chest. Relax the shoulders as you do this. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat.
  4. Lie on your back with your knees bent and a pillow under your head and neck for support. Nod your head forward gently, as though you were saying “yes.” Hold the position for 10 seconds and then relax. Repeat 10 times.

If your pillow doesn’t keep your head at the correct level, it is likely you will experience back and neck pain.

Consistent pain in the neck?

Remember, these are just temporary solutions to neck pain from sleeping incorrectly! If you had a bad night, try all of the above and hopefully you’ll get some relief. But if you’re experiencing neck pain from sleeping on a consistent basis, do something that addresses the root of the issue(s) rather than just treating the symptoms.

Want a solution to a consistent problem? Let me suggest something easy…

The wrong pillow can exacerbate or even be the cause of your neck pain. Often the solution is simple: replace your pillow with a more suitable one. A good pillow will keep your spine from bending unnaturally upwards or downwards and provide comfortable, even support for your entire head and neck.

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1. First Rib Dysfunction

First-Rib-e1457482944102.jpgThe first rib is a more common cause of shoulder and neck pain than most people realize.

However, a subtle first rib elevation can cause neck stiffness, as well. What happens is that anatomically, the anterior and middle scalene muscles connect to the first rib. These two small muscles located at the front and side of the neck act to elevate the first rib and also assist with breathing.

Over time, with excessive sitting, driving, texting, or computer work, our heads tend to dip forward. This puts these scalene muscles into a shortened position, causing them to tighten up. Because they function to elevate the first rib, when they are shortened, our first rib stays elevated. Therefore, one of the causes of a stiff neck can be from our first rib.

How To Fix It:

To get those scalene muscles on your neck to relax, sit in a good postural position. Using a towel or belt, place it over your shoulder close to — but not on — your neck. Reach behind with your other hand to hold the belt/towel.

Now side-bend your head towards the rib you are depressing with the belt/towel.

Hold for up to 15 seconds. Repeat 1-2 sets.

2. Diaphragmatic Breathing

Breathing-2-e1457482987655.jpgI know what you’re thinking: How does my breathing affect my neck? I am going to show you how.

Before you read any further, put one hand on your chest and the other on your abdominal wall. Now take a deep breath in.

Which hand(s) rose first or more? If you’re saying your chest did all or most of the work and your stomach did less of the rising, then you have a poor breathing pattern.

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Now do that again. You should notice that when you breathe in through your stomach, your shoulders don’t rise, but that when you breathe in through your chest, your shoulders rise.

Remember how I said the scalenes assist with breathing? Imagine if you are breathing through your chest each time all day long. Those scalenes are constantly getting overworked!

Furthermore, all those neck and shoulder muscles are stiffening up from rising each time you breathe.

How To Fix It:

To practice diaphragmatic breathing, lie down and put one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach. Breathe in through your nose and allow your stomach to rise, minimizing the amount of chest rising. Breathe out through your mouth.

Perform 10-20 reps for 2 sets.

3. Chin Tuck

Chin-Tuck-e1457483053526.jpgSometimes those deep neck flexor muscles get stiff from being in a forward head position (crouching over your computer screen, desk, etc.) all day long.

How To Fix It:

To bring them back into a neutral position, lie down on your back. You want to keep your mouth closed and think about pushing your head straight back. Avoid the tendency to flex your neck down towards your chest.

You may feel a stretch down the middle of your back.

Perform 10-15 reps slowly for 2 sets.

4-7. Neck Range of Motion


If you’ve ever woken up with a stiff neck to find that even the slightest range of motion feels painful, this was most likely caused by sleeping in a position that strained the neck muscles during the night.

How To Fix It:

Take a deflated beach ball and place it under your head. Placing this under your head will allow you to keep a neutral position.

Next, rotate your head side to side, slowly. Work through 10-20 reps per side.

After that, work up and down, again working through 10-20 reps. Be sure not to work through any pain and to make the movements slow and controlled.

Perform 10-20 reps per side for 2 sets.

8. Thoracic Extension

Thoracic-Extension.gifOften times, a stiff neck can come from poor shoulder and thoracic spine mobility.

When we begin to develop a poor posture, our thoracic spines begin to become kyphotic. This mobility exercise can help balance out all the flexing we do throughout the day when we are sitting and driving.

How To Fix It:

Place your elbows on a chair or table in a kneeling position. Keeping your core engaged and your neck in a neutral position, rock your hips back towards your feet.

You may feel a little stretch in the middle of your back.

Perform 10-20 reps for 2 sets.

9. Seated Towel Mobilizations with Movement

Seated-Towel-Mobilizations.gifThis is a great at-home technique that can be used for different segments of the cervical spine. It is called a Mulligan technique.

How To Fix It:

Use a towel behind your neck to start. Holding onto the towel, begin to rotate your head by letting your arms help assist the movement.

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Do not pull on your neck, but instead allow assistance from your arms.

Perform 10-15 reps in each direction for 1 set.

10. Neck Circles

neck-circles.gifNeck circles can be a good tool to use for getting blood flow and motion in your neck. Often times we sit for hours on end without moving, causing our necks to stiffen.

How To Fix It:

Simply going through neck circles in clockwise and counterclockwise directions can be useful. Perform five clockwise and counterclockwise circles.

Perform 5 clockwise and 5 counterclockwise circles for 2 sets.

11. Upper Trap Stretch

Upper-Trap-e1457483744488.jpgStretching the upper traps can be a quick way to begin relieving neck stiffness from a sports injury, excessive slouching or any activity that repeatedly requires you to turn your head to the side.

How To Fix It:

Be sure to be nice and gentle with this stretch. Place hand on the side of your head and gently pull the opposite ear towards the opposite shoulder.

Hold for 45 seconds for 2 sets.

Neck stiffness can be caused by many reasons. Before beginning any exercise program, always consult with your doctor first. If you have chronic pain or stiffness, get evaluated by a physical therapist.

Watch the Video Below!

11_Simple_Moves_to_Fix_a_Stiff_Neck-infographic.jpg(Your Next Workout: 9 Exercises for Lower Back Relief) Unlock Your Hip Flexors CTA Ad

What Should I Not Do If I Have Neck Pain?

Need to Work Sitting Down - CAThe most common position that will keep you from getting over your neck pain is sitting.

Most people think that the pain in their neck is coming from that area. Not so. If you were to take a side photo of you sitting, you would almost always see a slouched rounded mid back and your head sticking forward way past your shoulders.

There is no way you will be able to maintain a proper and balanced head and neck alignment in this position.

What Should I Do Then If I Need to Work Sitting Down?

Having Neck Pain - CAMy suggestion is for you to sit on the edge of the chair with both feet on the floor about hip-width apart. You will almost immediately notice that your posture is improved, and you are sitting up taller. You will still eventually get fatigued from being in this position, and this is an indication that you need to move and get up. No amount of continuing to sit and squirmed trying to get comfortable will work. You must get up even if it’s only for 30 seconds. There are some very simple, short, but effective things you can do during this time, and I will be telling you what they are in my next blog.

Until then sit on the edge of your chair and when you get tired or notice your posture decline get up and move around.

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