Neck Pain in Pregnancy: Reasons, Home Remedies & Prevention

Neck Pain During Pregnancy – Causes, Remedies, and Prevention

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Rima Sonpal (Gynecologist/Obstetrician)
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A pregnant woman’s body goes through a lot of hormonal changes. The imbalance in hormones, expanding belly, changes in posture, and a lack of mobility can lead to neck pain, which can also extend to the back and shoulders.

During pregnancy, a woman might feel stiffness in her neck during the first trimester and experience pain as the pregnancy progresses. Neck pain is more of a discomfort that starts in the neck and advances to the shoulder and muscles nearby. This causes stiffness, headache, numbness, or even swelling in the neck. Most pregnant women think there is no way to combat the pain and that they must silently bear it. But that’s not true! Some women take painkillers after consulting with their doctors, but some even try home remedies. The best way to counter neck pain is with simple home remedies. If you are experiencing neck pain during pregnancy, here’s everything you need to know about it.

Is It Normal to Have Neck Pain During Pregnancy?

Yes, it is normal to experience neck pain during pregnancy. Hormonal changes and increased weight can cause strain on the ligaments and joints in the neck. Additionally, postural changes and increased muscle tension can contribute to discomfort. Maintaining good posture, practising gentle exercises, and using supportive pillows can help alleviate the pain. Heat or cold therapy and massage techniques can also provide relief. However, if the neck pain is severe, persistent, or accompanied by other symptoms, it’s essential to consult a healthcare provider for further evaluation and guidance.

Common Types of Neck Pain in Pregnancy

During pregnancy, various types of neck pain can occur due to hormonal changes, increased weight, postural adjustments, and muscle tension. Here are some common types of neck pain experienced by pregnant women:

  •  Muscular Strain : The strain and tension in the neck muscles can result from poor posture, carrying extra weight, or increased physical activity during pregnancy.

  • Cervical Radiculopathy : This condition involves the compression or irritation of a nerve root in the neck, leading to pain, numbness, or tingling sensations that can radiate down the arm.

  • Cervical Osteoarthritis : Pregnancy can exacerbate pre-existing degenerative changes in the cervical spine, causing neck pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion.

  • Tension Headaches : Hormonal fluctuations and stress during pregnancy can contribute to tension headaches, often involving muscle tightness and neck and head pain.

  • Pregnancy-related Migraines : Migraines, characterised by severe headaches often accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to light or sound, can also contribute to neck pain during pregnancy.

  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome : As the baby grows, pressure on the nerves and blood vessels in the shoulder and neck region can cause pain, numbness, or tingling in the neck, shoulder, and arm.

Causes of Neck Pain During Pregnancy

Some common causes of neck pain during pregnancy are mentioned below:

  • Hormonal changes: Hormonal changes and bodily changes during pregnancy post-conception can trigger neck pain. The overdrive of hormones causes the neck muscles to slacken and this causes pain in that region.

  • Excessive pressure on muscles: During pregnancy, the neck’s ligaments tend to expand, and the muscles of the back and spine experience more pressure as a woman’s abdomen begins to grow to accommodate the growing foetus. This leads to neck pain.

  • Changes in the posture: As pregnant women are advised to sleep on their left side, the constant pressure on the left part of the body due to this sleeping posture causes stiffness in the neck and leads to pain.

  • Lack of mobility: Staying in the same position for extended periods during pregnancy can make your muscles sore and stiff. If you are pregnant, you need to move around enough to keep your muscles warm. Lack of mobility only leads to stiffness and may result in neck pain during the later stages of pregnancy.

  • Weight gain: The rise in weight results in heightened muscle demand and amplified pressure on your joints, encompassing those in your neck and back.

  • Sleep cycle: Attaining restful sleep during pregnancy has long been a recurring issue that could affect your neck. Tossing and turning while adjusting your body’s bulk for a cosy posture might result in waking up with a rigid and achy neck.

  • Sciatica: The discomfort stemming from sciatica can exacerbate with extended periods of sitting throughout pregnancy, owing to the increased strain on these nerves and ligaments. This strain occurs as they are stretched over bony prominences in that particular region.

Home Remedies for Neck Pain During Pregnancy

If you experience neck pain during pregnancy, avoid taking pain relievers or any other medication unless specified by your doctor. However, this does not mean you should live with the pain. Several home remedies can help alleviate neck pain if practised correctly. Following are some simple treatments that will help in relieving neck, shoulder and upper back pain during pregnancy

  • Try a warm compress : A warm compress can help relieve neck pain to an extent. Get a warm compress and apply it to the neck every day to beat the pain. Use it at regular intervals if needed.

  • How about a cold compress? : Similar to a warm compress, a cold compress can also help you beat the pain. Simply take an ice pack and place it on the neck region. It will help provide relief from the pain to a great extent.

  • Change your pillow : Using the wrong pillow or too many pillows to support your head can cause neck pain and backache. So invest in a good, comfortable pillow, preferably a maternity pillow. You will slowly get relief from neck pain. You can also use a maternity pillow to support your knees. Place the pillow between your knees to maintain a good sleeping posture.

  • Stretch it out : Stretching can also bring about relief from neck and back pain during pregnancy. So if you are pregnant, you must do some pregnancy-safe stretches. Stretching while pregnant can lengthen your muscles, relax your body, and relieve stress. You can also practice light yoga and pregnancy-safe workouts besides doing stretches.
    A woman stretching her neck

  • Try hydrotherapy : Hydrotherapy can also provide relief from neck pain. When you are in the shower, target the force of the water on the affected area. Let the water run on the neck for 3 to 4 minutes. Switch to cold water for another 60 seconds. Repeat a few times; you will feel better. The hot water stimulates blood circulation and eases the stiff muscles, while the cold water lowers inflammation. However, hydrotherapy should be done under supervision.

  • Try swimming : You can also indulge in some water-based sports like swimming to get rid of neck pain. Swimming is known to ease neck pain, but one must consult a doctor before taking up swimming or other water-based sports.

  • Use a tennis ball : You could put a tennis ball to use to relieve you of pain. Keep the softball between your back and the wall and move slowly from one side to the other. And use your body weight to get the desired amount of pressure.

  • Get a neck massage : Ask your husband or family member to give you a neck massage. A neck massage will relax your muscles. For better results, get a massage after a hot bath. You can also opt for prenatal massages if you can. Try massaging with lavender, coconut, or olive oil for better results.

    A man massaging a woman's neck

Tips to Prevent Neck Pain

As they say, prevention is better than cure. So here are a few ways to prevent neck pain during pregnancy:

  • Maintain a good posture. As you gain weight, there will be a lot of pressure on your spine, and you may feel neck and back pain. So, you must maintain a straight and firm position. Avoid slouching, as it will only put pressure on the neck area and result in pain.

  • After consulting with your doctor, you can take up swimming or other water-based exercises – it will help prevent neck pain during pregnancy!

  • Always maintain an eye level when looking at things and try not to slouch. This is important for women who work in front of a screen. If you slouch or look down, it will put pressure on your neck and may hurt.

  • Use the right pillow while sleeping. A pillow that is hard and uncomfortable can stress your neck muscles. So invest in a good pillow!

Simple Exercises to Ease Neck Pain During Pregnancy

You can combat neck pain during pregnancy, especially in the first trimester, with simple workouts and exercises that are safe to practice at home. Try these exercises after seeking medical consultation. And if the pain persists, make sure you check with your doctor immediately.

  • Sit straight on the floor and look ahead. Then, turn your head to the left side as far as it can stretch and stay in this position for about 15 seconds. Then, slowly turn your head to the original position. Then, turn your head to the right; hold this position for about 15 seconds, then slowly turn your head to the original position.

  • Slowly push your chin down to the chest and stay in this position for fifteen seconds, then return to your original pose. This will relax your neck muscles and provide relief from neck pain.

  • Assume a comfortable sitting or standing position with your back straight. Relax your shoulders and let your arms hang naturally by your sides. Gently squeeze your shoulder blades together, imagining you’re trying to hold a pencil between them. Hold this position for 5 seconds, feeling a gentle stretch between your shoulder blades. Release the squeeze and relax your shoulder blades. Repeat the exercise 5 to 10 times, focusing on maintaining good posture and controlled movements.

  • Sit or stand with your back straight and shoulders relaxed. Tuck your chin in towards your chest as if creating a double chin. Slowly slide your head backwards, keeping your chin tucked in. Hold this position for 5 seconds, feeling a stretch in the back of your neck. Return your head to the neutral position. Repeat this exercise 5 to 10 times, ensuring a controlled and smooth movement.

When to Contact the Doctor?

It is generally advisable to contact your doctor if you experience neck pain during pregnancy that is severe, persistent, or accompanied by any of the following symptoms:

  1. High fever or signs of infection: If you have a fever and neck pain, it could be a sign of an underlying infection that requires medical attention.

  2. Radiating pain or numbness: If the neck pain radiates down the arms and is accompanied by numbness, tingling, or weakness, it could indicate nerve compression or other nerve-related issues.

  3. Severe headaches: If your neck pain is accompanied by severe headaches, especially if visual disturbances or other neurological symptoms accompany them, it could be a sign of a more serious condition that requires evaluation.

  4. Difficulty with coordination or balance: If you experience difficulties with coordination, balance, or other significant neurological symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention promptly.

  5. Worsening symptoms or lack of improvement: If your neck pain worsens over time, persists despite self-care measures, or does not improve with conservative treatments, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional.

FAQs

1. Is It Safe to Get a Neck Massage During Pregnancy?

Yes, in most cases, it is safe to get a neck massage during pregnancy. However, consulting with your healthcare provider before undergoing massage therapy is essential. A professional massage therapist with experience in prenatal massage can provide appropriate techniques and ensure your and your baby’s safety. It is advisable to avoid deep tissue or intense pressure on specific areas, especially if you have any complications or high-risk factors during pregnancy.

2. Is Neck Pain a Symptom of Preeclampsia?

Neck pain could be a symptom of preeclampsia, but it is not exclusive to this condition. Preeclampsia is typically characterised by high blood pressure, protein in the urine, and swelling in the hands and face. While preeclampsia can cause muscle tension and discomfort, resulting in neck pain, it is essential to note that neck pain alone is not a definitive symptom of preeclampsia. If you are experiencing neck pain or any other symptoms during pregnancy, it is crucial to consult your healthcare provider for a proper evaluation and diagnosis. They can assess your symptoms and determine the appropriate course of action.

Neck pain is common during pregnancy but can be treated with home remedies and simple pregnancy-safe exercises. But suppose the pain is excessive and home remedies fail to work. In that case, consulting a doctor before trying out any techniques at home is a must, as a doctor will be able to rule out the possibility of any complications.

References/Resources:

1. Moran. J; Preeclampsia: Be aware of this silent condition during pregnancy; Edward Elmhurst Health; https://www.eehealth.org/blog/2019/06/preeclampsia/; June 2019

2. Madu AE, Guirguis M; Ectopic Pregnancy and Tubal Abortion; Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, North Tyneside General, Hospital, Northshields, United Kingdom; http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.887.909&rep=rep1&type=pdf; September 2014 

3. Preeclampsia; Cleveland Clinic; https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17952-preeclampsia

4. Body changes and discomforts; OASH; https://www.womenshealth.gov/pregnancy/youre-pregnant-now-what/body-changes-and-discomforts

5. Signs & Symptoms; Preeclampsia Foundation; https://www.preeclampsia.org/signs-and-symptoms

Also Read:

Causes of Joint Pain in Pregnancy
Treatment for Foot Pain while Pregnant
How to Treat Hip Pain during Pregnancy

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