Waking up from a wonderful full-night’s rest is one of the greatest things one might enjoy. As I’ve been getting older, I’m much more appreciative of a full night’s rest. However, there’s one thing that has affected me and my patients from time to time that has taken what could be a great sleep and turned it into a painful event.
It’s the infamous “crick in the neck” that you feel when you just didn’t sleep right.
You didn’t bang your neck on something. You didn’t headbang to a great heavy metal song. No… you just slept wrong.
So what is that “crick” in your neck? And, more importantly, what can you do about it?
1. Muscle Spasm
The most common type of “crick” we see from a sleeping injury is a muscle spasm. Whenever the body is in a unique position for an extended period, such as when recovering from a surgery or after limping for weeks after a bad knee injury, the body develops compensations to accommodate those changes. The compensations are primarily muscles tightening up in areas that are both guarding and balancing the body to accommodate for this new way of moving.
The neck is no different.
By sleeping with your neck in a strange position for a full night, you are changing the way your muscles are typically set to a great degree over a long period of time! Soon enough, the brain says “Hey! This is feeling like a unique position I've held for a very long time! It’s time to tighten up some muscles to get us ready to hold this position for a much longer time!”
Bang. The muscle spasm crick has formed. This typically feels like a large cord of muscle that is just locked into a certain position.
Let’s move onto the next type of “crick."
2. Facet Irritation
Facet irritation is when a joint in your neck (a joint is where two bones meet) gets pressed too tightly together. If this joint is pressed too tightly overnight, irritation can form and a “crick” can form. This can also trigger a muscle spasm, so you can have this facet irritation as well as muscle spasm!
Typically this is felt as a single local point of irritation on your neck, maybe about the size of a quarter. If this combines with a muscle spasm, you’ll have that small quarter-sized spot of irritation with the whole area feeling like a big tight cord.
So you have this neck pain after sleeping wrong… what do you do?!
One of the easiest things you can do to quickly loosen up muscles in that area is to massage the upper trapezius muscle using this technique:
Find a small ball and a doorway. Place the ball on the doorway and press the meaty part of your upper shoulder into that ball. Hold for 1-5 minutes, or until the muscle tension and tenderness decreases significantly.
Another great technique is to use that same small ball and lean up against the wall targeting this spot on that same shoulder. Also massage here for 1-5min.
Doing these two things 3-5x/day should begin releasing some tension you’re feeling in your neck region. Other things you can do is use a heating pad and avoid positions of irritation in your bed, such as sleeping face down or using too many pillows.
If you’re still having pain from poor sleeping positions, please reach out! We’re more than happy to help you resolve this neck pain!
Thanks for reading,
Dr. Marcus Rein, PT, DPT
Dr. Danny and staff's views on performance improvement, injury prevention, and sometimes other random thoughts.