If you are experiencing a stiff neck and it seemingly came out of nowhere, you are not alone. I have been treating patients with neck stiffness and pain for over 30 years and although the possible reasons could reach into literally the hundreds, I will outline the top three reasons I see on a very consistent basis in my practice.
Reason #1: Bad head and neck positions of the head when people sleep
Most people in modern society sleep with a polyester filled pillow that lifts their head and creates zero neck support. In fact, besides being the number one reason for neck stiffness in my opinion, I believe this devastating adaptation to people’s choice of instant gratification of feeling simple softness under their head is the number one reason we have degenerative arthritis of the cervical spine. The reason is simple. We SLEEP about a third of our life. During slumber, the neck needs to be supported with a half cylinder, (picture a half moon) to support the neck in its proper “convex” position while lying on one’s back to SUPPORT the neck in the neutral anatomical position. This tip alone will reduce probably about fifty percent of stiff necks. While you lay in bed, when one lifts the head above 2 inches, we stress the muscles, ligaments and discs of the spine. So placing a large pillow that stress’ the neck will most like be the first culprit to cause you to have a stiff neck.
Answer: Roll up a small towel, find a piece of foam that could be formed into a half moon or get a pillow that does this for you while you lay on your back. My highest recommendation would be PILLO1, “The #1 Choice in Intelligent Sleep.” For the informed reader that suffers from stiff necks, especially upon awakening, you will see that this pillow gives your neck the perfect balance of support of the neck and comfort of the head.
Reason#2: Postural Stress
If you see a person looking down or texting, you will quickly be able to visualize the worst posture in our society that contributes to a stiff neck. The reason is simple mechanical physics. If you load the stress into a forward head posture, gravity, mass and Newton’s third law come together; “for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction.” Our body’s main goal is to stay in balance, what is called equilibrium.
If a person stresses the spine and allows the head to lean forward, the “re-action” are the muscles tensing up, the ligaments becoming taught, and the discs (the cushions of the spine between the vertebra) tearing or protruding. The body’s initial communication center in the brain transmits a message to you as the operator to get out of the position. It is a defense response that tells your conscious mind that you are beginning to have a stiff neck. Remember, for every 1 inch of forward head posture, you place an additional 10 lbs. of pressure on your spines anatomy.
Answer: Work on your posture while at the computer, driving, while you’re on your smart phone and while walking. Try and keep your ear directly above your shoulder not in front of it!
Reason #3: Underlying Arthritic Conditions of the Spine
There is more attention in the media talking about stress, cortisol responses, and some nutritional considerations, but the reality that I see on a daily basis is that when a person has a stiff neck they usually are healing from an injury or even more commonly, have some low or moderate levels of basic degenerative arthritis that is causing there neck stiffness. This is the profile of many folks, especially beginning in their early 40’s but certainly typically seen in their 50’s and progressively worsening and accumulating in their 60’s, 70’s and above. Joints that are arthritic usually demonstrate a decrease in height of the joint space and some bone (osseous) changes consistent with increased pressure and stiffness commonly measured as a decrease in range of motion. The basic reason is that a joint that is narrowed has less lubrication, cartilage and most likely, depending on degree, has some bone spurs or “osteophytes” that are limiting the range of motion. With all said and done, a stiff neck is common and you can be rest assured you are not alone if you experience restricted range of motion and some mild pain.
Answer: See your chiropractor or therapist to receive some gentle mobilization, stretching, soft tissue and possibly some traction. The other hugely important thing to emphasize and reiterate is that both your pillow and posture play a huge role into whether or not you develop most degenerative changes (especially in your neck) for all the above reasons outlined; so look at this blog as a tri-phase picture of the top three answers that you can control.
Health is about trying to find solutions that optimize your genetic make-up and responsible living is searching out remedies, facts and credible information that can improve your life. Please share your knowledge and this blog with your friends and family. Wishing you much health, happiness, success and better sleep.
Recent Amazon review on the PILLO1 pillow:
This review is from: PILLO1- Dr. Hall’s Eco-luxe Pillow, Sleep Beautifully and Heal Naturally tm
I sleep on both my side and back. I purchased the large size and have owned it for about a year. It was worth every penny. I have never slept better and haven’t seen a stiff neck since.
Learn more: www.PILLO1.com