(This post probably contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission at no cost to you through links shared on this website to help keep the information I provide free to you)
If you are suffering from neck pain during pregnancy, you are in the right spot!
Going through my fifth pregnancy, I know these frustrations all too well.
One of the most common complaints during pregnancy is neck pain.
Many pregnant women think it’s just part of the deal when you’re pregnant.
But if you suffer from chronic pain in your neck during pregnancy, it can make everyday activities difficult—and even painful.
The good news is that you don’t have to put up with the discomforts any longer!
And if you catch it early, you can relieve symptoms before they worsen.
This article will discuss what causes neck pain during pregnancy and provide the best tips on how to avoid or manage it so you can live your best life throughout this special time!
Disclosure: Although I am a certified prenatal/postnatal exercise specialist and personal trainer, I am not YOUR trainer. The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute of the information and advice you receive from a healthcare professional.
Is Pregnancy Neck Pain Normal?
Many aches and pains in pregnancy are common but not necessarily normal.
You don’t need to live in misery for nine months!
There are many stretches and exercises that can be done to provide better support and stability to your changing body during this time.
Always consult with your health care provider if your aches and pains become debilitating or interfere with your daily life.
Why Is My Neck So Stiff?
A stiff or tight neck is often the result of muscle imbalances and weakness.
If you have neck pain, you may also notice that your shoulders are often rounded forward and or lifted up toward your ears.
In both my professional and personal experience, the best way to relieve tension and stiffness is to both stretch and strengthen the muscles to provide support and stability.
Neck pain during pregnancy is typically caused by a combination of factors including:
Hormones in the body during pregnancy, specifically relaxin, cause ligaments, joints and tendons to become more mobile and loose during pregnancy to prepare the pelvis for childbirth.
This can also cause the joints in the neck to loosen and require more support.
The muscles in the neck and upper back can become tense and strained which leads to pain and discomfort as they work hard to fight changes in the center of gravity and accommodate the extra weight gain.
2. Decreased Physical Activity
Many women have a reduction on physical activity during pregnancy for a variety of reasons including fatigue, morning sickness ,overall discomfort and fear of prenatal exercise.
However, lack of exercise causes muscles to become weak and tight.
The combination of weaker muscles and loser joints is one of the biggest culprits of aches and pains during pregnancy.
One of the most important benefits of prenatal exercise is that it helps to reduce common pregnancy pains by maintaining muscle strength counteract the physical changes your body is going through.
3. Changes in Posture
As a woman’s pregnancy progresses, the neck muscles must work harder to counteract the physical changes that come with pregnancy.
The weight of the growing baby, slouching or sitting with rounded shoulders or neck forward places much more stress on the neck and shoulders.
Having poor posture can exacerbate neck pain by straining and irritating neck muscles and ligaments.
Muscles often pick up the slack and need to work harder to support the spine and back which can lead to discomfort and pain.
4. Weight Gain
With obvious reasons, one key trigger of neck pain during pregnancy is weight gain.
The excess weight, especially in the front body, can cause a lot of excess strain on joints, muscles and ligaments in the neck and upper back leading to pain and discomfort.
Finding a comfortable sleeping position during pregnancy is challenging and many pregnant women find that neck and upper back pain is exacerbated by poor sleep or lack of proper sleeping positions.
When to Worry About Neck Pain During Pregnancy?
While neck pain during pregnancy is common, it should not be ignored.
If neck pain is constant and severe it can lead to problems like:
- Chronic Headaches
- Loss of sleep or restful sleep, which in turn leads to fatigue, depression, anxiety and mood swings.
- Painfully sore muscles and ligaments that can make every day tasks like driving, cooking or household chores especially difficult.
- Irritability and depression as a result of being in constant pain and discomfort.
While neck pain is typically nothing serious, it is always a good idea to discuss your concerns and symptoms with your healthcare provider.
Your doctor may need to do further testing or refer you to a physical therapist.
Tips for Preventing Neck Pain During Pregnancy
Use these tips to help relieve your neck pain so you can get some much needed rest before this little one arrives!
1. Incorporate Mobility Work Frequently Throughout the Day
When your body experiences pain, it body wants to provide protection by stiffening up and getting tight.
Stretching might seem like the best solution but sometimes this can actually lead to more stiffness.
Adding strength and mobility work to stiff and tight areas will help your body provide the strength and support it needs to relieve pain and tension.
Spending just 5-10 minutes throughout the day moving your body and stretching can help ease neck pain.
2. Maintain a Healthy Weight Gain
While weight gain during pregnancy is unavoidable, the amount of weight you gain should stay within a healthy range for both you AND your baby.
Excess weight gain contributes to aches and pains but also puts you at higher risk for possible serious medical conditions such as preeclampsia and gestational diabetes.
Maintaining a healthy weight gain will help alleviate many aches and pains that come with pregnancy.
3. Strengthen Your Core
Lack of core strength during pregnancy is often the root cause of a lot aches and pains during pregnancy.
Focusing on keeping your core strong with safe prenatal core exercises can help relieve pain in your neck, back, hips and pelvis.
4. Focus on Posture
Avoiding slouching or hunching over for prolonged periods of time such as while in front of the computer, on the phone or playing with your kids.
Keep your shoulders pulled back so that you are not slouching forward.
If you are sitting for prolonged periods of time, consider using an ergonomic desk and keyboard to maintain proper posture so that head is not slouched forward.
5. Heat and or Cold Therapy
Alternating between cold and heat is a great way to relieve tension.
Heat helps to boost blood flow and nutrients to the affected area to relax the muscles while cold reduces swelling and pain by slowing blood flow.
Using the two together can help improve range of motion and a quicker recovery.
6. Wear Flat, Low Heeled Shoes
Chose flat, low heeled shoes to avoid adding unnecessary strain to your neck and upper back.
When you are not at work, try wearing flats around house for added relief.
7. Improve Sleeping Positions
It may be difficult to find a comfortable sleeping position with persistent neck pain.
Consider using a pregnancy body pillow to help relieve some pressure and provide better support for your spine, neck and even your hips and prevent stiffness.
I personally preferred a pillow like this that wraps completely around my body to help provide support to both my front and back body.
Often times, adjusting your sleeping position can make a huge difference in neck pain and shoulder pain.
8. Take Frequent Breaks to Stretch and Move
Avoid sitting for long periods of time without taking breaks.
Set a timer and be sure to get up and move at least once an hour or even every 20 minutes.
9.Consider a Professional Massage or Chiropractor
If you are able, consider finding a massage therapist or chiropractor who specializes in working with pregnant moms.
This can help provide temporary relief from neck stiffness during pregnancy and should be combined with consistent mobility and exercise work to keep the muscles from becoming stiff and tight.
Keep in mind that a massage is only a temporary solution to relieve pain.
10. Exercise Is Key!
Many people underestimate the power of exercise for pain relief!
Keeping your body strong, especially during pregnancy, will help provide you body with better support and relieve the stiffness and discomfort that often comes with pregnancy.
The Best Exercises To Relieve Pregnancy Neck Pain
It’s important to find relief from neck pain during pregnancy rather than just living with discomfort for nine months.
Many moms struggle with staying active during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester and third trimester when the body goes through the most changes.
However, movement is medicine and these exercises and stretches will help reduce neck, shoulder and back pain.
1. Chin Tucks with Rotation
Chin tucks are a simple yet highly effective exercise that helps improve neck strength, flexibility and function
- Begin by sitting tall in a chair or standing with your feet shoulder width apart and upper back against a wall.
- Place a finger on your chin and gently pull your head straight back until you feel a stretch at the base of your neck.
- Make sure to avoid holding your breath and keep shoulders relaxed.
- Hold this position for about 5 seconds then glide your chin back forward.
- Now once your chin is pulled back, slowly turn your head left to right several times then return to the starting position.
- Repeat for 10 repetitions. This exercise can be done multiple times throughout the day.
2. Pec Stretch
Slouching from changes in posture during pregnancy causes chest muscles to become tight.
Releasing tension in the chest can help you strengthen your back for a more supportive posture.
- Begin by standing next to a door frame or wall with the leg closest to the wall bent and slightly forward.
- Engage your core to tuck your tailbone (no arch in your back) and keep your hips facing forward toward your front foot.
- Reach the arm that is closest to the wall behind you so that it is in line with your shoulder. You can experiment with different angles to find what feels best for you.
- Keeping your shoulder blade drawing down and back, slowly rotate your upper body away from the wall until you feel a stretch across your chest.
- Make sure you are not holding your breath and continue holding this position for 10 slow breaths, focusing on keeping your shoulders down and core engaged.
- Repeat on the opposite side for 2-3 sets of 10 reps per side.
3. Wall Angels
This exercise works to strengthen your back and open up rounder shoulders that often causes neck tension.
It is also a great exercise to relieve shoulder pain.
- Stand with your back against a wall and feet about 4 inches away from the wall. Focus on keeping your tailbone, upper back, and head against the wall.
- Flatten your lower back by tucking your pelvis toward your ribcage with a slight posterior pelvic tilt.
- Draw your shoulders down away from your ears and slightly tuck your chin. (see above)
- Bring your arms to about 90 degrees with the back of your hands and forearms against the wall.
- Keeping your shoulders drawn down and away from your ears, squeeze your mid-back and slowly straighten your arms above your head as far as you can without letting your shoulders rise.
- Make sure your back, head, forearms and hands maintain contact with the wall the entire time.
- Once you reach the top, lower them back down to slightly below 90 degrees.
- Keep the repetitions slow and controlled.
- Complete 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions
4. Band Wall Slides
- Begin by facing a wall with your feet together or in a split stance.
- Place a light-medium resistance loop band around your forearms.
- Bring your arms up to a 90-degree angle and press your forearms into the wall as if you are in a plank position.
- Keeping your core engaged to prevent arching in your low back, slowly slide your arms up overhead along the wall, slightly pressing out agains the resistance band.
- Advanced-Once you reach the tops, squeeze your shoulder blades/upper back together and lift your arms a few inches off the wall while keeping your core engaged and shoulders away from your ears.
- Slowly lower your arms back to 90-degress and repeat for 3 sets of 8-10 repetitions.
6. Wall Downward Dog (T-Spine Mobility)
- Start by placing your hands shoulder-width apart on a wall so they are at least hip height.
- Now walk your feet back as you straighten your arms keeping your hands on the wall.
- Once your heels are under your hips and your body is in an L-shape, draw your shoulder blades down away from your ears and slowly lower your head between your upper arms, keeping your arms firmly pressed against the wall.
- Hold for 30 seconds and relax.
- repeat 5-10 times several times a day.
7. Thoracic Spine Bench Stretch
Improving mobility in the upper back lat muscles is an effective way to help relieve tension in the neck and even relieve shoulder pain.
- Begin by kneeling in front of a low bench. you can also stand and use a counter.
- Bring your hands together in a prayer pose and place your elbows on the edge of the bench or counter.
- Slowly draw your shoulders down away from your ears and hinge your hips back toward your heels while simultaneously dropping your chest to the ground.
- You should feel this stretch across your back, lats and chest.
- Hold for 5-8 deep breaths for 5 repetitions.
- Begin on your hands and knees with your knees directly under your hips and hands under your shoulders.
- Inhale and let your belly sink toward the floor, press your chest forward and slightly lift your head to gaze forward or slightly upward. Hold for 3-5 seconds.
- As you exhale, slowly engage your core while rounding your spine upward, tucking your tailbone beneath you and drawing your pubic bone slightly forward.
- Allow your head to drop down as you push the ground away from you to get a nice stretch in your upper back.
- Make sure to keep your shoulders relaxed and drawn down away from your ears.
9. Open Book
This stretch looks easy however it will help release tension in the upper back and neck.
- Begin by lying on your right side with your left and foot on a foam roller or pillow and your arms extended out in front of you
- Keeping your knees firmly pressed against the ground, inhale and open your top arm across your body and move your head and shoulders with the movement of your arm.
- Exhale as you hold the stretch for 15 seconds then slowly return to the starting position.
- Repeat for 3 sets of 10 reps on each side.
11. Loop Band Pull Apart
- Start by holding a light resistance band with both hands out in front of you with your arms straight and chest height. There should be a slight tension on the band but not too tight.
- To initiate the movement, focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together as you pull the band apart. Make sure to prevent your shoulders from creeping up by your ears.
- Hold the position for 3 seconds then return to the starting position.
- Complete 3 sets of 10-12 reps.
12. Banded Lat Pull
- Start by sitting or standing under a resistance band that is attached to a stable surface. You can either be facing forward or back. I prefer to alternate between sitting forward and back.
- Engage your shoulder blades and pull the band down as if you are going to put your elbows in your pockets.
- Pause at the bottom by squeezing your lats then slowly return to the starting position.
- Focus on keeping your shoulders relaxed.
- Complete 3 sets of 12 reps.
13. Reverse Plank
This exercise is another favorite. It helps stretch the chest and shoulders while strengthening the upper back and core for better posture.
- Begin by sitting on the floor. Place your hands behind you with your fingers facing your feet. They should be directly under your shoulders.
- Engage your core and slowly extend your legs out in front of you.
- Keeping your core engaged, press your palms into the floor and squeeze your glutes to lift your hips and torso toward the ceiling.
- Keep your shoulder blades squeezing together and drawing down your back. Do not allow them to creep up toward your ears.
- Keep your core engaged by lifting your pelvic floor and drawing your belly button toward your spine (not sucking in).
- Gaze up toward the ceiling or slightly in front of you.
- Hold the position for 30 seconds or as long as you can before your hips begin to sink.
- Complete 3 rounds of 10-12 repetitions.
A Final Word On Neck Pain During Pregnancy
Neck pain during pregnancy can be a very common inconvenience for many women but that doesn’t mean it is normal.
These tips can help provide you with pain relief at home.
However if you experience severe and chronic neck pain, it is important to seek medical attention from your doctor right away to rule out other medical conditions.
You don’t need to suffer in pain for nine months!
Use these tips to find comfort so you can enjoy this precious time in your life!
Brooke is a certified Prenatal and Postnatal Exercise Specialist with a Bachelors of Science degree in Kinesiology-Exercise Science. She is also a mom of 3 girls with more than 15 years of experience in health and fitness. Brooke’s goal at Struggles of a Fit Mom is to help motivate, educate and inspire other busy mamas who struggle with finding time, energy and motivation to take care of themselves in the chaos of motherhood.