The story is always the same. “Doc, I went to bed fine, but when I woke up I couldn’t turn my head, I had to use my hands to lift my head up this morning, and I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck!”
This is typical of a condition called “Torticollis”. One type of torticollis is “Congenital Torticollis” that occurs in infants and young children. But we will be discussing “Adult or Acquired Torticollis”.
What Causes Sleeping Neck Pain?
Many cases of this condition occur for no known cause, however there are several well known factors that may be related.
- Sleeping with the window open: This occurs most often in the hot summer months when people go to sleep with their window open for air circulation. But then around 4am when the temperature drops the neck muscles stiffen and cramp and lead to a change in the neck reflexes that don’t allow the tight muscles to loosen later.
- Sleeping in an awkward position: Whether you’re over-tired or have had a little too much alcohol, sometimes people will get their head or neck into a position from which they don’t move for several hours. The worst is when people sleep on their stomach and turn their head 90 degrees towards one direction so they can breathe, but also sleeping without a pillow or a shallow pillow can cause it. In the latter case, the neck is tilted too sharply towards the bed. For example, a person sleeping on their left with too shallow a pillow might have the joints on the left side of the neck jam or freeze in place while the muscles and other soft tissues on the right side of the neck are over-lengthened. It can also occur when one sleeps on their back on too many pillows causing their neck to be overly flexed during the night.
- History of an unusual activity the day before: Many times a person will report that they had done an activity outside of their normal routine the day before they woke up with the neck pain. Examples are people who are packing and moving homes, gardening, watching TV or a movie with their head turned one direction for the whole time, or beginning a new exercise in the gym. They don’t usually feel any problem the day of, but wake up feeling it the next morning.
Dangers of Drugs for Sleeping Neck Pain Treatment
Millions of Australians depend on anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve pain, but the drugs are among the most dangerous on the market. Aside from significantly increasing your heart risks (such as a two to fourfold increase in the risk of heart attacks, stroke or cardiovascular death), NSAIDs are linked to serious gastrointestinal risks like bleeding of the digestive tract, increased blood pressure and kidney problems. Remember, this applies not only to prescription medications like Celebrex but also to over-the-counter drugs like aspirin, Advil and Motrin.
It’s very difficult to find a drug-based method of pain relief that is not saddled with severe side effects. The FDA has even recently limited the amount of acetaminophen allowed in prescription products and added a boxed warning due to liver toxicity concerns. Acetaminophen is actually the leading cause of acute liver failure in the United States.
As for the opioid painkillers like OxyContin, they are among the most commonly abused prescription drugs and are a leading contributor to the rising rates of fatal prescription drug overdoses. Many become addicted after using them to treat conditions like back or neck pain.
But no matter what type of painkiller you choose, the bottom line to remember is that they do not come without risks! Unfortunately, if you visit your conventional doctor with severe neck pain, a long-term treatment plan will typically include a drug-combination approach, using anti-inflammatory drugs, anti-seizure medications, muscle relaxants and possibly other types of pain medication as well. In other words, the answer for pain relief is drugs, drugs and more drugs — each one raising your risk of suffering potentially lethal side effects.
Powerful drugs can numb your nervous system so the pain doesn’t register. While these approaches may be convenient, they can cause adverse effects and kidney or liver damage. Worse, they don’t correct the underlying cause of the headache.
How to Relieve Sleeping Neck Pain Naturally
- Exercise the muscles slowly. Slowly rotate your neck in a circular motion to help stretch out the agitated muscles. This may be somewhat uncomfortable at first, but it ultimately helps to alleviate the pain.
- Move your neck slowly back and forth. Stop the movement if and when you begin to feel any pain. Your range of motion should improve the more you flex your neck back and forth.
- Move your neck from side to side. Stop the movement if and when you begin to feel any pain. As in the first exercise, your range of motion should improve the more you flex your neck.
- Take a shower. Let the lukewarm to hot water run over your neck for at least four or five minutes. Keep your neck straight as you do this, and do not turn it.
- Soak with bath salts. Bath salts can help improve circulation, relieve muscle tension, and reduce stress. Experiment with different bath salt additives for added pain relief.
- Epsom salts may be used in a warm bath. Epsom salts are made of magnesium and sulfate, and offer a go-to remedy for many health ailments in addition to relaxing the mind. Magnesium helps regulate the activity of numerous enzymes, as well as raising serotonin levels in the brain.
- Use a heating pad. Apply a heating pad for a couple of minutes to help to stimulate blood flow in your neck.
- Use an ice pack. Apply an ice pack, or something from the freezer wrapped in a towel to the affected area. Ice will dull the pain better than heat will.
- Apply a balm to the sore neck. Balms come with many different applications; they can be herbal, analgesic (pain relief), or rubefacient (increase circulation). Know which kind of balm you are using.
- If neck pain is severe, a neck brace may be needed to support the neck. Only use a brace if you feel your neck is unstable and the pain is severe. To do this at home, roll up a bath towel and wrap around your neck so that your base of your skull rests on top of the towel. Sit in a comfortable position.
- Get a massage. Consult with your doctor before getting a massage if the pain has been persistent for a long period. Go get a massage at your local spa. Massages are costly, but shop around for good service.
- Acupuncture may be effective for chronic neck pain. Although, tests in the past decade have shown acupuncture to be no more effective than a placebo treatment. Acupuncture and massage both offer intense pressure inside muscles, but acupuncture may be better suited to offering a higher intensity pressure inside the muscle.
- Hydrotheraphy, or water therapy, may also be effective.Hydrotherapy may be done at home in the shower, and offers a different kind of massage. Target the neck with warm water for three to four minutes. Turn the water to its cold setting and target the neck for 30 seconds to a minute. Repeat as many times as necessary.
- ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼Chiropractic Care : Chiropractic works by opening stuck joints, returning movement to the spine, and removing any nerve impingement that might be happening. If a disc herniation is involved, chiropractic is a natural way to provide a long-term solution. Chiropractic gets to the source of the problem, not just addressing the symptoms but finding the area of dysfunction and returning it normal physiology—in other words, making the area work the way it’s supposed to. When function returns, pain goes away. But mind you, getting rid of pain is not the only name of the game as far as chiropractic is concerned; return to function is the real goal, because when function returns, pain goes away on its own. Pain is nothing more than a warning signal telling you when something is wrong. Shutting off the alarm instead of investigating what is causing the alarm to go off only sets you up for a recurring problem. Once found, the solution can then be applied.