Todd Kuslikis

Todd Kuslikis

MMT, MPA
Knee Pain Specialist and Injury Prevention Expert

Stiff Neck: Gentle, Nighttime Stretches to Help Wake Up without a Pain

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We’re relaxed when we sleep, right? Then why is it that we often wake up feeling stiffer in the morning? We’re going to talk about some gentle nighttime stretches to help you wake up with less neck stiffness and pain. Sure, the tagline may be “the best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup,” but let’s be honest, waking up with less neck pain is even better.

 

So Why Do We Get So Stiff?

In general, moving muscles are happy muscles. When muscles move, fluid in the body moves, but when muscles stop moving that fluid pools in joints and muscles. This means we’re stiff in the morning and usually need to move around a little to get those muscles happy and fluid moving again to loosen up.

 

Another culprit for morning stiffness may be your pillow or sleeping position. Sorry belly sleepers, this position puts the most pressure on your neck and can increase stiffness and pain.

 

Choosing Right Pillow

Similarly, having a pillow that’s too fluffy could lead to your neck being stuck in a bent position and increase pain as well. Play around with different pillow types, you may find that changing up your pillow or sleeping position helps right away.

 

 

Another way to help with morning neck stiffness is to stretch! Stretching is often overlooked because it just doesn’t feel as exciting as strengthening. “Stretching helps with pain,” just doesn’t have the same ring as shouting “No pain, no gain” as you sweat trying to lift heavy weights.

 

But here’s the thing: pretty much all of us have stiff neck muscles because we have less-than-ideal posture during the day. Most of the things we do involve having our arms in front of our body and that pulls us into a slouched position.

 

If neck muscles are already stiff from poor posture during the day, they will only get stiffer at night. This means stretching is important to help with neck stiffness and pain!

 

 

Stretches for Stiff Neck

Here are two of the best stretches for a stiff neck to perform at home:

 

Back of Neck Stretch

Back of Neck Stretch | Neck & Shoulder Pain

Steps:

  • Start by sitting up tall in a chair.
  • Then take your right hand and hold onto the side of the chair seat, keep it there for the stretch.
  • Look down at your left armpit and place your left hand on your head to gently increase the feeling of the stretch.
  • Hold for 30 seconds then switch sides.
  • Repeat 3 times on each side.

 

Front of Neck Stretch

Steps:
Front of Neck Stretch | Neck and Shoulder Pain

  • Start by sitting up tall in a chair.
  • Then take both of your hands and place them over your chest a little to the left of your breastbone (the bone in the center of your chest).
  • Look up and over your right shoulder like you’re looking for your seatbelt in the car.
  • Hold for 30 seconds then switch sides.
  • Repeat 3 times on each side.

 

 

But really, hold these stretches for the full 30 seconds if you can. Think of your muscles like rubber bands. If you take a rubber band and only stretch it for a second it snaps right back into place and is the same length.

 

We want our shortened and stiff neck muscles to get longer so we need to hold the stretch longer to change the muscle length. Think of the rubber band you’ve been using to hold together a bunch of pens. If you take that rubber band off after it’s been stretched for a while it’s longer than when you started.

 

Research shows holding a stretch 30 seconds is the ideal amount of time to hold a stretch. If you’re feeling a lot of discomfort, lighten up on the stretch or start out only holding for 15 seconds. As you tolerate the stretches better aim for 30 seconds.

 

Pro tip:

Use a timer! We’re all very good at counting to 30 quickly when we hold a stretch. Using a timer will make sure you’re actually holding for the full time.

Yes, it will be the longest 30 seconds of your life, but the time is worth it when you start to feel the results of lengthened neck muscles in the morning.

 

Try out these stretches before bed and even get in a bonus round of stretches in the morning to really keep those neck muscles flexible and limber. If the stretches cause pain, stop. Reduce how much you are stretching and if you still feel pain don’t keep performing them. “No pain, no gain,” is not actually a good saying to live by.

 

Don’t forget to also think about your sleeping position, posture, and pillow! These could all be adding to your neck stiffness in the morning.

 

At Feel Good Life we want the best start to your day and hope the best part of waking up for you is that you have less neck stiffness. Although let’s be honest, it’s hard to beat coffee in the morning. 

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