When the alarm goes off in the morning you notice that something is not right. A sudden pain begins to develop in your neck and increases. By the time you hit snooze, you feel a strong dull ache in your neck and a sharp stabbing pain as you move. Somehow you went to bed feeling great and woke up with neck pain. Seriously, how traumatic can a nights sleep be? Somehow I hurt myself sleeping and now have a severe pain in my neck.
We have all had those mornings where we wake up in pain without an apparent reason. Somehow the joints between our head and torso became injured, which caused increased pain signals to be sent to the brain. There are seven bones (cervical vertebrae) between the skull and thoracic spine. Each of those bones form joints with other bones. The angle of our torso and head sometimes creates torque or strain on those joints. Strong ligaments surround those joints, and are most likely what gets hurt. Ligaments do not like to be stretched, and they are telling your brain that right now.
As the alarm goes off for the second time, you violently displace your anger on your beeping nemesis. Did the alarm play a secret role in this plot against you? Possibly, cant trust electronics these days. Usually when small household electronics plot to increase your stress levels it is because you either have a really busy and important work day, or it is the weekend when you cant get help.
Step one is always the same. Get in the hot shower and see if the warm water will miraculously relieve the pain. We all hope that the severe pain will just disappear in 10 minutes, because how can I really be hurt from sleeping. 13 minutes later reality sets in, the shower gained 15 degrees of pain free movement but the neck pain is just as severe.
After admitting the electronics have won this battle, you remember the protocol from the last episode of neck pain. Ibuprofen often provides some pain relief and helps control the increasing inflammation.
Second, perform the yes dear, no dear exercises. In a pain free fashion, this means stop before the pain. The phrase no pain no gain does not apply here. Start by looking straight ahead and slowly tip your chin to your chest. If you can only go 10 degrees before pain, that is ok, this is only a starting point. Next slowly tip your head backwards looking toward the ceiling. Repeat this 10 times. Think of it like nodding your head to say, yes dear. Then we are going to say no dear. Once again you are looking straight ahead, and look toward your left shoulder. Once you get as far as you can before experiencing pain, look toward your right shoulder. We are going to practice saying no 10 times.
During the exercises you will probably notice improved motion after a few repetitions. Those joints are beginning to loosen up. The slow and controlled movements are rocking the injured joint and decreasing the pain signals to the brain. The brain is responding to the movement by decreasing the muscle spasms.
The exercises should be repeated often during the day, to keep those joints moving. If you sit or lay still for a prolonged period of time, those joints will tighten up again. Icing is often your friend. Ice helps block pain signals to the brain, decreases inflammation, and helps the muscles to relax. Ice for 15 minutes, and then take it off for 15 minutes. Repeat this as many times as you can. A big ice pack can be placed on your neck at breakfast, on the ride to work, or when sitting at the computer.
If the pain continues to get worse, seek treatment sooner than later. Quickly getting into a chiropractic or physical therapy office for treatment will speed your recovery. Getting treatment within a few days of onset will decrease the amount of days and intensity of pain. Most times it only takes a 1-3 visits.
Different types of therapeutic modalities such as electric therapy, ultrasound, cold laser, massage therapy, adjustments will decrease the inflammation and muscle spasms. They will also increase the pain free range of motion and get the joints moving quicker. Expect a talk on posture or habits that contribute to neck pain. (Read your Posture Lecture Here) Posture-Neck-Pain-Chandler-Back-Pain
If you find yourself waking up with neck pain more often, it might be sign of underlying problems or contributing factors causing your neck pain. Specific treatment maybe needed to address those issues. The once a year bout of neck pain usually is not something to worry about if it resolves within a few days.