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Waking up with a stiff neck? Here’s why, and how you can fix it

Last Updated: Mar 16, 2023 | General Health, Neck Pain, Sleep, Sports Injury, TCM Treatments

man in car with neck pain

Waking up with neck pain can be one of the worst ways to start your day – you drift off to sleep without any problems and find yourself unable to turn your head in the morning. The pain can radiate to your shoulders and your head, and even cause numbness and tingling in your arms. 

While you might naturally assume that your neck ache is caused by sleeping in an awkward position, there could be other reasons for your discomfort. In this article, we cover the different sources of neck pain and how you can find relief.


Common causes of stiff neck pain after sleeping

stomach sleeper neck pain tcm

You could be using the wrong pillow

When it comes to pillows, you should be choosing the right pillow for your sleeping style. The perfect pillow should support the natural curve of your spine and maintain a neutral alignment of your head, neck, and back.

In general, a medium-height pillow is ideal for people who usually sleep on their backs. For side sleepers, a higher pillow provides better support. Stomach sleepers – read on to find out why you should try to change this habit!


You’re sleeping in the wrong position

If you’re a habitual stomach sleeper, your neck is likely suffering the consequences. When your head is turned to the side for hours on end, the weight of your body puts immense pressure on your neck and compresses your nerves. Over time, this may even result in the degeneration of spinal discs.

Because the majority of our body weight is in the middle of our bodies, sleeping on your stomach also puts more stress on your spine. The spinal stress doesn’t just give you a sore and tired back. It may even cause headaches and result in pain and numbness in various other areas of your body.


You’re straining your neck in the daytime

housewife with neck pain

Sometimes neck pain is caused by muscle strain and prolonged bad posture. If you spend hours hunched over at your desk while working on the computer or have a habit of looking down at your mobile phone, this causes injury from repetitive stress and muscle overuse.

While you might not think it’s possible to overuse your muscles just by bending your neck, craning your neck at a 45-degree angle puts a weight of almost 22kg on the spine! This is five times the normal amount of pressure.

The prolonged periods of sitting in a chair without any physical movement are also harmful to your musculoskeletal system in the long term. Due to the lack of use, your muscles stiffen and weaken and you may find that sleep is no longer refreshing.

Even if you have “good posture” and sit up straight through the day, hours spent in this position puts severe stress on the discs in your lower back while also contracting the muscles in the back of your neck to hold your head up.


You may have a pre-existing condition

There are a variety of possible diseases and conditions that causes inflammation, strain, or trauma in the neck. For example, arthritis leads to degeneration of the bones or joints, which can cause disc herniation and bone spurs to form.

Other possible conditions include fibromyalgia, cervical spondylosis, and even viral infections that cause swelling of the lymph nodes. Rare infections like tuberculosis and meningitis tend to be accompanied by neck stiffness as well.


You have whiplash

Whiplash is caused by sudden and forceful back and forth movement of the neck which often happens in car accidents. It can also result from sports injuries, a fall, or other types of traumas such as being beaten or kicked.

While many get better within a few weeks, some develop lasting and chronic pain for years after the incident.


You’re stressed out

professional middle aged man with neck pain

We have our body’s natural stress response to thank for this. When you experience anxiety or a stressful situation, your muscles can contract involuntarily.

This is because your body is in “fight or flight” mode and getting ready to face any possible threats, even if the threats are not physical.


Home remedies for stiff neck pain

For pain that isn’t too severe, you may prefer to try the following methods to treat stiff neck at home. If you are experiencing serious and acute pain, don’t wait to see a doctor.

Method 1: Apply ice to your neck

Within the first three days of the onset of your pain, icing is a great way to reduce inflammation and soothe your aches.

Be sure not to leave the ice on your skin for too long! This constricts the blood vessels and reduces blood flow to the area, which can slow down healing.

To avoid negative effects, don’t ice any area of your body for more than 20 minutes at a time.

Method 2: Take pain relievers

Common painkillers such as acetaminophen or NSAIDs like naproxen sodium can ease pain and inflammation – albeit only temporarily. These are not recommended for long-term use due to the negative effects on your stomach and kidneys.

Method 3: Try acupressure

Most people are familiar with the concept of acupuncture – the insertion of fine needles into pressure points to relieve pain and promote wellness.

Acupressure can be described as acupuncture without the needles and has likewise been used for thousands of years.


acupressure points for neck pain

Acupressure Points for Neck Pain


Feng Chi (Wind Pool) 风池

These points are at the top of your neck and the base of your skull. These acupressure points are specifically used to treat neck stiffness from sleeping in an uncomfortable position.

Tian Zhu (Heavenly Pillar) 天柱

These pressure points are used to relieve stress, improve neck pain and stiffness, and improve blood flow to the head and eyes.


How to perform acupressure at home

tcm acupressure neck pain

Follow these easy steps to find neck pain relief at home:

Choose a comfortable and quiet area where you can relax. Focus on your breathing and use firm pressure to massage the neck pressure points mentioned above.

Rotate your fingers in a circular motion for a few minutes.

You can repeat this at any time throughout your day. If you feel a sharp pain at any point, stop immediately.


How can I treat the root cause of my neck pain?

While the above methods may be helpful for less serious cases of neck pain, they do not address the underlying cause of your condition.

TCM is proven to be very effective at treating the root cause of bodily aches and pains. An experienced TCM physician can accurately diagnose the cause of your condition and formulate an individualised, non-invasive treatment plan to accelerate your recovery.


Acupuncture for neck pain

tcm acupuncture neck pain

There are acupressure points that lie along the meridians in your body, with each major meridian connecting specific organs. Any blockages or imbalances in these acupressure points can result in pain and illness.

Recognised to be an effective treatment for pain by the World Health Organisation, acupuncture involves the insertion of fine needles into acupoints to treat affected areas.


Gua Sha for neck pain

tcm neck pain gua sha

Gua Sha is also known as scraping and is used to restore circulation and break up any tightness in the fascia – the thin membrane that encases all the muscles in your body.

Like most TCM treatments, Gua Sha is performed along the meridians of the body. Meridians are channels or streams through which qi, or vital energy, flows.

Using a smooth tool, long strokes are used to disperse stagnant blood and encourage lymphatic drainage.


TCM herbs for neck pain

Kudzu Root 葛根

This herb is used to relieve muscle tension in the neck and shoulders. Its other properties include improving hydration and easing thirst, as well as relieving diarrhoea.

Please be aware that you should never self-prescribe TCM herbs. This is because TCM ingredients are usually never eaten on their own, but as a component of a formula made up of multiple ingredients that work together. Buying herbs over the counter and self-medicating may potentially cause more harm than good.

A reputable and experienced TCM Physician will prescribe herbs tailored to your specific condition. They will also periodically adjust their prescriptions as your body condition changes.



If you’re suffering from a literal pain in the neck, don’t wait too long to seek help. When home remedies such as self-massaging your acupressure points don’t resolve your discomfort, consult our team of board-certified TCM physicians to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.




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