4 Common Causes of Neck Pain (and How to Avoid Them)

neck pain

Do you often wake up in the morning with persistent neck pain or stiffness? Do you find that even low-intensity activities like reading or working at your desk leave your neck feeling painful or uncomfortable?

If you do, you’re not alone. All of us have had to contend with a sore or stiff neck at some point in our lives, and some people even experience neck pain regularly as a chronic condition. Neck pain may range from mild to severe, and the most intense cases can make even simple movements like turning the head difficult.

neck pain

Neck pain usually comes about when the ligaments, tendons, or muscles of the neck are strained. Straining or spasms in these soft tissues in the neck might arise from physical trauma or injury. These symptoms may also point to an underlying medical condition, such as arthritis or spinal stenosis. However, neck pain may also occur as a result of many seemingly ordinary and innocuous factors that are common in everyday life.

Here are four of the most frequent causes of neck pain and what to do about them:


When you feel stressed, regardless of the reason, you may often find yourself involuntarily tensing the muscles in your neck and shoulders. Doing this habitually can lead to persistent pain and tightness in the affected areas. Thus, it’s imperative to find healthy ways to manage your stress, as this will not only safeguard your neck health but improve your overall sense of well-being as well.

Different stress management techniques work for different people depending on their personalities, lifestyles, and major sources of stress. For instance, some people benefit from relaxation activities like meditation, journaling, yoga, hot baths, or massages. Others choose to release their stress through rigorous physical endeavours like exercise or playing sports. Make time each day for whatever stress-relieving activities work best for you; your neck will thank you for it in the long run.

Sleeping in Awkward Positions

Sleeping in a curled-up position or on a pillow that’s too soft is a surefire way to strain the soft tissues in your neck. You’re also liable to wake up with neck pain if you make a habit of sleeping in less-than-ideal places, such as at your office desk or on public transport.

The best way to relieve neck pain arising from poor sleep is to make sure that you get plenty of sleep in a proper bed, with an adequately supportive pillow. While there are many different pillows out there and you may need to perform some trial and error to figure out which one works best for you, one good rule of thumb is that your chosen pillow should support the natural curve of your neck while you sleep.

Sleeping on your back is also generally considered the healthiest position for your entire spine, so you may want to try this for a few nights and see if it’s comfortable for you. If you find that you still sleep most comfortably on your side, just make sure your pillow isn’t so thick that it bends your neck sideward at an awkward angle.

neck pain

Improper Posture

Standing, walking, or sitting incorrectly can place unnecessary stress on your joints and soft tissues, leading to pain in the neck, shoulders, and other parts of the body. Some people, for example, may instinctively position their heads too far forward, while others habitually pull their heads back to an unnatural degree. In these cases, the muscles in the neck are likely to tense up, stiffen and grow sore over time.

One good rule of thumb to observe for proper posture is that your head should be aligned directly over your shoulders. If you experience persistent aches and pains in any part of your body that you think maybe posture-related, or if you’d simply like professional advice on how to improve your posture, consider seeking a postural analysis from a doctor or physical therapist. A trained professional can give you helpful advice and even recommend specific exercises or medical interventions to improve your spine’s alignment.

Using Computers and Mobile Devices

When we use smartphones, tablet computers, or mobile devices, it’s often natural to hunch down, angle our heads downward or slouch forward to better see the screens. Assuming these unhealthy positions for hours at a time each day can lead to pain and stiffness in the neck. Preventing “tech neck” can be as simple as taking regular breaks from your devices throughout the day and using these few minutes to stand up, walk around and stretch.

It’s also always a good idea to invest time and effort in improving your office ergonomics. As much as possible, you want your computer and other devices with screens to sit on your desk at eye level, so you won’t have to strain your neck by looking down at them. If you use a laptop at work, for example, consider placing it on a riser and working with a mouse and separate keyboard instead of the built-in keyboard and trackpad.

While neck pain may not necessarily indicate an especially dangerous or life-threatening condition, the constant physical discomfort can interfere with your daily life in many ways. Instead of waiting for your neck pain to resolve on its own, it’s better if you take concrete steps to both mitigate it and prevent it from returning in the future.