29 January 2020
When sleeping, it is better to lie on your back to avoid having a stiff neck. Photo: Bloomberg
When sleeping, it is better to lie on your back to avoid having a stiff neck. Photo: Bloomberg

How to avoid having a stiff neck

Many people wake up with a stiff neck when they do not keep themselves warm in bed during winter.

The pain is caused by prolonged tightening of neck muscles, followed by spasms, inflammation or dislocation of the cervical spine.

Since the problem is quite common, people often overlook the symptoms and ignore the causes, believing it will naturally go away in two or three days, but when it comes back, the pain tends to be more severe than before.

People like to snuggle in thick blankets when the temperature drops. But if the neck is left exposed, the temperature difference between the bare neck and the body will upset the thermostatic nerves, causing muscles spasms, inflammation and neck pain.

Maintaining bad postures while using the computer, carrying bags or lifting heavy objects on one shoulder, sleeping on your stomach, using a pillow that is either too high or too low – all these contribute to the tightening of neck muscles, resulting in a stiff neck.

Clinical studies show that people suffering from pain in the neck or waist, especially those aged over 40, are prone to having a stiff neck. Common symptoms include neckache, not being able to twist the neck, a tilted head, tightness, redness or swollenness in neck and shoulder muscles.

In more serious cases, patients with stiff neck may not be able to do simple movements like drinking or even falling asleep. Some may even experience headache and numbness in the hands.

Here are reminders before going to bed:

- Keep the neck warm while sleeping by wearing turtle-neck pajamas, or keep the room temperature at about 23C.

- Use a hairdryer instead of relying on the air-conditioner or the fan after getting out of the shower.

- Use a proper pillow that gives enough support to the cervical spine.

- The height of the chest should be the same as that of the pillow while lying down.

- There should be no space between the pillow and the neck area. Keep the shoulders off the pillow.

- Use a hard mattress that gives the right amount of support to the spine.

- Improper sleeping positions such as sleeping on your stomach can cause one side of the neck to be overstretched and the other overstressed. Sleep on your back.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov 28

Translation by John Chui

[Chinese version 中文版]


licensed chiropractor and physiotherapist