Stiff Neck Relief in Fredericksburg

Feb 2, 2022

Do you sleep on the couch or on your stomach? If so, you probably wake up with a stiff neck or headache more than you would like. At Stine Chiropractic Clinic, Drs. Chris and Larry Stine – Fredericksburg, VA, chiropractors – can provide relief. They teach you about a stiff neck, how to treat it, and how to avoid it in this blog post.

Why do I wake up with a stiff neck after sleeping wrong or on the couch?

Before we can address a stiff neck, we need to understand the following:

  • the structure of the neck,
  • positions of the neck, and
  • creep deformity.

The structure of the neck

The cervical spine, or neck, is susceptible to static and dynamic loads. In other words, the neck has mechanisms which provide support while you sit still (static) and while you move (dynamic). These mechanisms use the muscle attachments and ligaments along the spine, which play a role in stabilizing the joints.

The primary joint stabilizer is the muscles. The ligaments are secondary. If the muscles, however, are not providing this stabilization, the ligaments must take the load. But, ligaments can fail and cause pain and dysfunction. So, what does this mean when you sleep?

While you sleep your position is static. Your muscles are not contracting, nor providing support. This means that stabilizing the neck falls to ligaments and joint capsules – the static stabilizers.

Positions of the neck

A spine with good posture is called the neutral position. However, if you have bad posture you are either arched or slouching. Also, with the common use of mobile devices, people also experience text neck. And although it is important to have a neutral position while awake, it is also important when you sleep.

But let’s say you sleep on a couch with a high headrest. Sleeping in that position for prolonged periods stretches the ligaments and capsules out, which weakens them.

Another common source of a stiff neck is sleeping on your stomach. Now, stomach sleeping is never a good position, not for your neck or even your back. When you lay down on your stomach you are unable to sleep in a neutral position. Because you cannot lay face down in the pillow, your head must rotate away from the pillow. This stretches the capsules and ligaments out. This leads to creep deformity.

Creep deformity

Creep deformity is an engineering term, but it can apply to the human body. It means that elastic structures will weaken and deform over time if under sustained pressure or stresses. When sleeping on the couch, and stuck in that position, the ligaments and capsules stretch out beyond normal limits. Since muscles aren’t contracting to protect the neck, this stretching creates a structural change that is not longer beneficial for the body. The result is you wake up with a stiff neck.

These capsules and ligaments contain little nerves which constantly relay messages to the brain. These messages include positioning of the capsules and their integrity – whether or not they are damaged. If damaged, the brain interprets the signal as pain. In order to respond to the pain the brain reacts by locking down the postural muscles in the neck. You end up with stiffness in the neck. This stiffness is meant to help protect the damaged capsule from undergoing any further deformation.

How does chiropractic help with a stiff neck?

The first thing Fredericksburg, VA chiropractors address is pain relief for a stiff neck. This may include interferential therapy. With this therapy, the body releases endorphins and enkephalins, which are your bodies own pain killers. In addition, heat is applied to loosen up the muscles, as they have become quite tight. With the pain reduced and the muscles loosened, you can work on mobilization.

We offer a small manipulation to adjust joints splinted from the muscles contracting to protect the neck. Once delivered, this manipulation increases the range of motion in the neck. This causes a stretch reflex in the neck muscles, allowing them to relax. Also, by increasing the range of motion it allows for proper nutrient transport to the joints. These joints receive nutrients through movement, which facilitates healing.

Is sleeping on the couch bad for my neck?

Not necessarily. The real problem is making sure you sleep in spinal neutral. Use a pillow that keeps your neck in this position and avoid any arm rests that will jeopardize spinal neutral.

Why do I wake up with a headache?

Along with a stiff neck you can have a headache. In your head is the greater occipital nerve, which is one nerve that comes out and gives distribution or sensory to the scalp. There is a hole through which this nerve transits. With a stiff neck the muscles shorten and tighten. As they do they pull on this hole, which irritates the nerve and causes a headache.

If you wake up from sleeping with a stiff neck or headache, please contact our chiropractic clinic. Our team will assist you in finding relief. Call 540-898-4100 or book an appointment.

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