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How to Stop Waking Up in Pain

Dr. Arnan Sisson, PT / August 11, 2022

Over the weekend, I had a friend text me that she needed medical advice. She woke up with low back pain and could barely move without pain. She was worried and panicking because she was afraid that she would have to take the day off of work because of the pain, which she couldn’t afford to do.

I also hear patients frequently come in and tell me that their goal is to get rid of nagging stiff neck pain or waking up with a “creak” in their neck.

If this sounds like you, keep reading to find out how you can get rid of back and neck pain, and stop waking up in pain!

The first thing that I tell people to do is to stop panicking and stressing out about the pain because this can actually make your musculoskeletal pain worse or more intense. Pain is like the check engine light of your body. When the check engine light goes off in your car, it doesn’t always mean something is seriously wrong, sometimes it means a sensor is a little off, or that something minor needs to be worked on.

The same thing is true of your body. Just because you feel pain doesn’t mean that you damaged anything or that you need injections, medications, or surgery. Sometimes, it just means that you should move a bit differently, or that your body is under more stress than usual, and you feel stiff, tight, and achy.

When you are stressed and panicking, your heart rate goes up, you start breathing faster and shallower, and your body releases cortisol, also known as the stress hormone.

When your body has a lot of cortisol, it can make the pain signal more intense, or cause less movement to give you the pain signal. This is why it is important to decrease stress by telling yourself that the pain is like a check engine light and take some deep breaths. It can also be helpful to stimulate the release of endorphins, which can help alleviate pain. This is why our motto is “just keep moving”. One of the worst things that you can do for pain is to freeze and not move or stay in bed all day. Movement is medicine, even gentle movement.

One movement that many of our patients find beneficial is walking, even just getting your heart rate up a little can release endorphins and help decrease pain and improve your mood. If your pain happens when you bear weight, like you do while walking or running, biking and swimming can also be helpful.

Next, you need to figure out what your body wants, or how it wants you to move differently, that way you can make a change.

We recently had a patient with sleeping problems, who's sleep position was as a side sleeper. They always woke up in the middle of the night with hip flexor pain and would wake up in the morning feeling chronic pain and tightness in that area. We taught him how to loosen up his hip flexors in the morning, but he still couldn't fall asleep and was still waking up with pain. So, we gave him a gentle yoga routine customized to his needs to perform before he went to bed. That is what made all of the difference for him! He was able to be consistent with it and is now sleeping through the night.

A lot of people think that the position that they sleep in is the problem and try to change and fix that.

With my patient above, that wasn’t the case, and he just needed to move before bed, and was still able to keep his sleep position. Usually, it is not your sleep position that is causing you pain. We find that it is something you do during the day that irritates your body, and it catches up to you and you feel the pain at night or when you wake up. This happens a lot with our patients who lift weights and come to us when they keep waking up with head and neck pain.

One patient that we had recently told us that she would randomly wake up with neck muscle pain 1-2 times a week. When we asked good questions and dug a little deeper, it turned out that she only woke up with pain and a sore neck after workouts where she was lifting overhead. We looked at how she moved and found out that she did not have good shoulder stability, so her neck muscles would tighten up to try to stabilize her shoulder when she was lifting weights.

It’s important to mention that in order to get rid of nagging pain, you need to treat the CAUSE of the problem, instead of just chasing the SYMPTOMS.

Usually, we find that where you hurt is not what is causing the problem. Where you hurt is usually the body part that is taking extra stress or having to compensate for another body part that is not doing its job well.

We also discovered that this patient lifted in the evening after work, which is probably why the pain happened in the night, or after lifting. We gave her some exercises to use as a warmup to help her shoulder stabilize better, and she is now lifting overhead and not waking up with pain and was even able to progress to handstand push-ups!

So, what should you do next to stop waking up in pain and actually get some pain relief? Sign up to get access to our eBook , “9 Quick & Easy Ways to End BACK PAIN( And Stiffness)”, which will teach you not only how to treat your symptoms, but also how to treat the root cause of your pain so that you can put an end to the cycle of waking up with pain!