Mike Ocan woke two weeks ago with a sharp neck pain. The pain was the same as before, but this time it was worse. He ignored the pain for four days before he could no longer bear it.

“I went to a health center and was prescribed drugs that could reduce my pain. The cause of my pain was the hard pillows I used, which I have stopped using. I took the medication, and the pain gradually decreased. After eight days, I felt much more comfortable,” Ocan recalls.

Umarashid Gulooba is an emergency medical doctor at Makerere University Business School. He says that neck pain while sleeping can be caused by a stiff pillow or bad sleeping posture. The pain is caused by you twisting your neck while sleeping, especially when the pillow is large and makes you sleep in a bad position. Another cause could be a strep throat.

“When the pillow’s hard and large, the neck is twisted into an abnormal posture. This causes breathing problems and you begin to snore. Sleep quality is affected when you do not breathe well at bedtime. Over time, you will experience sleep deficiency due to poor sleep quality,” Gulooba says.


The first step in treating the problem is to identify the cause. Gulooba recommends using a smaller size, soft pillow with fiber if you use a large and hard pillow. Make sure you do not sleep in an awkward neck position. You can use a pain balm like diclofenac gel, brufen or deep heat spray, tube or tube on the neck. Ask someone to gently massage it. Gulooba says that this relieves neck pain and tension. You can also use pain medications such as paracetamol or brufen.

If the problem persists

If you have found the cause and treated it, the pain should last between five and seven days. If the pain persists for more than a week then you should consider other causes. It is possible that there are existing problems with the cervical vertebrae, the bones of the neck.

“You should also consider nerve compression. There are nerves in the cervical vertebra which could be compressed, especially if pain radiates from the hands and shoulders. Gulooba suggests that if you experience pain when swallowing, you may have tonsillitis or a sore neck.

In some cases, people with underlying conditions like high blood pressure may experience neck pain due to the pressure on the carotids. In the worst cases, a visit to a health center is recommended for a thorough examination of the neck to find the tenderness. This includes checking for swellings, pain radiating, deformities of the neck bones, and if you need radiological imaging (MRI) or a magnetic-resonance imaging (MRI).