Not long ago, one of my clients called our office early in the morning asking to get in anytime during the day because he woke up with neck pain he did not have before he went to sleep. “It must be the way I slept.” When I saw him, he pointed to one side of his neck and shoulder. The pain was sharp in nature and he was having trouble turning his head. He had no history of neck pain. I asked several questions to establish that the pain was only in the neck and shoulder and did not travel down the arm. He had no recent injuries, illness or repetitive-motion activities.
He looked at me funny when I asked, “Did you sleep with the window open last night?” He said, “Yes.” I explained that the temperature probably dropped several degrees during the night and that the temperature change could be the cause of his neck pain. How did I know to ask about sleeping with an open window? I have seen this pain pattern many times before and I knew the morning was chilly.
If you have ever had this kind of neck pain, you know it is very uncomfortable. It can last several days. I used massage and heat to treat my client. He left with less pain and was able to turn his head better. I instructed him to use a hot pack twice a day. When he returned 2 days later, he said 90% of the pain was gone. The day after the second treatment, the pain was completely gone.
A draft on the neck can cause this kind of neck pain (i.e., driving with the car window open on a chilly day or sitting or sleeping near a fan or air conditioning vent). Unfortunately, people on vacation may make the mistake of throwing the window open to get fresh air while they sleep. Not a good idea if there is a temperature drop during the night.
If you want to sleep with the window open, it would be a good idea to get a weather report to see what temperatures are doing overnight and forego the open window if a significant temperature drop is expected.
If you are in a large room for a big meeting or seminar, it is common for the air conditioning to be set to accommodate all of those warm bodies in the room. Make sure you are not stuck sitting under the vent. I often tell my female clients to wear a scarf to restaurants or places where they don’t have control over where they sit. Scarves store easily in a purse. For men, wearing a shirt with a collar is likely to help.
I also suggest that when the temperature drops below 50 degrees outside that you wear something to keep your neck warm, especially on a windy day.
If you have neck pain that is severe, is accompanied by any other symptoms (i.e., fever, headache, lethargy) or is caused by trauma, see a physician. If it seems like it is “just” a sore, stiff neck, a hot pack may be helpful. To get rid of the discomfort more efficiently, I suggest making one or two appointments for massage therapy.