My Neck Hurts When I Wake Up
Updated: Sep 28
I am frequently asked in my clinic “my neck hurts when I wake up. Why??” Frequently my new patients often have fingers that go numb or even whole hands.
My first question to them is, “what kind of pillow are you sleeping on?” If you are sleeping on a flat pillow that is simply foam or feathers, you need a new one. Why? Flat foam pillows tend not to have the proper shape that supports your neck. Some foam pillows are molded, those are different. If your pillow has a neck roll that supports your neck and allows your head to drop back into extension, those are great if you are a back sleeper. If you are a side sleeper they can cause you issues. Feather pillows tend to bunch up in all the wrong places as you sleep and lose their support in all of the areas your neck and head need support.
How should you then pick a pillow? If you are one of my patients, I have a demonstration pillow in my office. Ask me to see it and explain what to look for when purchasing a new pillow.
If you are a stomach sleeper, no wonder why your neck hurts when you wake up. No pillow in the world is going to make it better. You need to learn new sleeping habits to help your neck. Lying on your belly with your head rotated to one side all night is going to cause imbalances in your neck with one side of your neck muscles growing really contracted and the other side too stretched out.
If you sleep on your side, you need a thicker pillow. A high density foam that is the same thickness as the distance between the side of your head and the outside edge of your shoulder will be the best choice. That will fully support your head so that it isn’t tilting to the side all night squeezing and pinching off your nerves.
If you are a back sleeper, you need a pillow with a neck roll built in to support the curve in your neck adequately. These pillows allow your head to remain in neutral which means your neck is a little extended. That will keep your nerves happy while you sleep and keep the tension off of them resulting in less tight muscles when you wake up.
What do I sleep on? Well, just like running shoes, pillows are very individual. What you love one week, you may detest the next. I have three that I rotate between. One is a custom measured pillow that we sell in my office. The second is a tempurpedic memory foam pillow that I purchased at Brookstone and my new favorite addition to my collection is one from the Sleep Number Store at Ridgedale. It is a cooling memory foam with a neck roll that is a little bit thicker than most and also supports side sleepers. I find that if you have a cranky difficult neck, you are well served by changing your pillow every year.
As always, if you have neck pain when you wake up, you need to have yourself evaluated by a chiropractor. Good pillows are helpful but they don’t correct the bad movement patterns, imbalances and poor alignment causing the problem in the first place. You can always call our Plymouth chiropractic office for advice at 763-553-0387