Are you currently pregnant and suffering from neck pain?
Up to 12% of women will experience neck discomfort at some point during pregnancy.
In this post you’ll learn:
- The most common causes of neck pain during pregnancy,
- Gentle ways to help ease your neck pain, and
- Other treatment options that are safe in pregnancy.
Let’s get started.
Although I am a doctor, I am not your doctor. This information is for informational purposes only and should not substitute the advice from your healthcare professional. All kinds of exercise and dietary changes are potentially dangerous, and those who do not seek counsel from the appropriate health care authority assume the liability of any injury which may occur. Please read my full Disclaimer for more information. Also, this post may contain affiliate links: meaning I may receive a commission if you use them.
Ok, moving on.
Is neck pain normal during pregnancy?
Pain is never normal during pregnancy, except when you are in labor :).
If you are experiencing neck pain it is likely due to one of the following:
- Poor posture
- Muscle strain
- Headache, and/or
- Slipped Disc
Let’s discuss each one individually.
1. Forward head posture
Forward head posture is due to a muscular imbalance between the muscles in the front and back of your neck.
This can happen for a variety of reasons such as:
- looking down at your phone constantly
- sitting in front of your computer for prolonged periods of time
- slouching whenever you sit
- sleeping on too many pillows causing your head to be elevated too high
- carrying too much weight on your back
As a result, the muscles in the back of your neck will be tight giving you a forward head position.
I go over posture and how to fix your posture in more detail here.
2. Muscle strain
Muscle strain can occur in your neck for a number of reasons but is most often due to unusual sleeping patterns.
These can get better on their own- but it’s important to try and prevent it from happening again.
If you wake up with neck pain- try to sleep on your left or right side with just one small pillow under your head.
Headaches are another reason for neck pain that can also present with scalp, face, and jaw pain.
If you were prone to headaches antepartum, keep a close eye on your symptoms as they can worsen with pregnancy.
With that said, if you begin experiencing blurry vision or seeing spots, you must speak with your doctor as this could be a sign of preeclampsia.
More on that later.
4. Slipped disc
Lastly, a slipped disc or herniated disc in your cervical spine can also be a cause of neck pain.
This pain can be “electric” or shooting in nature.
If you have a herniated disc in your neck, you will be treated with conservative measures such as heat or ice packs, analgesics, and possibly physical therapy.
If these measures fail, you may need surgical treatment.
What about shoulder pain?
Shoulder pain in pregnancy is most likely due to a musculoskeletal injury.
Rarely, it can be due to a ruptured ectopic pregnancy if you are early in the first trimester.
The shoulder pain that you can experience is known as a “referred pain.” This means that the pain is not actually due to a problem in your shoulder but rather somewhere else in your body.
Ruptured ectopic pregnancies are a medical emergency requiring surgery.
If you have an early pregnancy and you are experiencing pelvic cramping, shoulder pain, and/or feeling faint, you should seek medical attention right away.
More on that later.
How can I ease neck pain in pregnancy?
There are a few ways you could ease your neck pain in pregnancy.
But first, it is important that you rule out other, more dangerous reasons for neck pain.
*ALWAYS GO TO YOUR DOCTOR FIRST TO MAKE SURE NOTHING SERIOUS IS GOING ON*
After being evaluated by your doctor- here are some things you can try.
Pay attention to your posture
Bad posture is one of the most common causes of neck pain.
Here is what a forward head and kyphotic posture look like:
You see how the ear is in front of the shoulder?
And there is an excessive curve at the thoracic spine, aka upper back?
This is not good.
You should be able to draw a straight line from your ear to the middle of your shoulder.
Also, your back should not be rounded to that extent.
Awareness is key!
You must do your best to catch yourself whenever you let your body get into these positions.
It is also a good idea to set an hourly timer on your phone so that you could be reminded to:
- roll your shoulders back,
- sit up tall with a straight back, and
- bring your head back into neutral alignment.
Here is what good posture looks like:
The second thing you can do is strengthen the weak muscles in your neck, and stretch the tight muscles.
Perform Neck Stretches and Exercises
Another way to ease your neck pain during pregnancy is to perform stretches and exercises that
- Strengthen the underworked neck muscles and
- Relax the overworked muscles of the neck.
Some of those stretches and exercises are:
The chin tuck is the only way to strengthen the muscles of the anterior neck.
You do it by bringing your chin backward. This will create a “double chin.”
The only body part moving in this exercise is your head.
Hold the tuck for 3-5 seconds, release, and repeat for 8-10 repetitions.
Chin to Chest
The next exercise will further strengthen the neck flexors while gently stretching the neck extensors.
Try to make contact between your chin and your chest.
If you cannot touch your chin to your chest don’t worry!
Eventually you will get there.
Do 8-10 slow and controlled repetitions.
The next couple of exercises can help
- increase neck mobility
- improve blood flow to all the muscles and ligaments in that area,
- and alleviate a stiff neck.
Let me show you.
The side-to-side neck rotations should be performed nicely and slowly.
Do your best to keep your shoulders down and do not shrug.
Do 8-10 slow and controlled repetitions on each side.
Neck Lateral Flexions
When performing this movement make sure to bring your ear to your shoulder and not your shoulder to your ear!
Your shoulders should not move!
Your head is the only body part that should be moving in the exercise.
Do 8-10 slow and controlled repetitions on each side.
This last exercise is more focused on keeping the rest of your upper body in good alignment. Simply roll your shoulders up and back as you keep your chest proud.
Make sure to keep your neck neutral and well-aligned with the rest of your body.
Now that you have the exercises and stretches down, let’s discuss other ways to get alleviate neck pain.
Neck pain could also be reduced by using a pregnancy pillow.
Sleeping with a pregnancy pillow is beneficial because your body is able to stay in a good neutral alignment for the entire duration of your sleep.
As a result, you don’t have to sleep with multiple pillows under your head which can worsen forward head and spinal posture.
And last but not least…
Hydration is necessary for just about every single thing in your body.
When you are dehydrated, you are more likely to experience fatigue, dizziness, and muscle cramping, and soreness.
Drinking more water is a simple way to ensure that your muscles and other organs are getting the nutrients they need.
Drink enough water so that your urine is a light yellow color.
Other Related Questions
Is neck massage safe during pregnancy?
In general, it is safe to get a neck massage in pregnancy. However, it is improtant to first speak with your doctor to make sure that you do not have any contraindications to massage therapy.
In addition, look for a massage therapist that is prenatal certified so that they can cater best to your needs.
Is neck pain a sign of preeclampsia?
Neck pain is not a sign of preeclampsia.
Signs of preeclampsia include:
- Elevated blood pressure >140 systolic or >90 diastolic
- Proteinuria or protein in your urine
- Severe headache that is not responsive to Tylenol
- Blurry vision
- Right upper quadrant abdominal pain, and/or
- Nausea, vomiting
What are the causes of neck pain in each trimester?
In this next section- let’s discuss likely causes of neck pain by gestational age.
First trimester (starting at 8-10 weeks)
In the first trimester, neck pain is likely due to muscle strain, headaches/migraine headaches, or forward head posture.
Second trimester (starting at 14-16 weeks)
At this point in pregnancy, the causes of neck pain are likely to be the same as in the first trimester. Common causes include muscle strains, headaches, forward head posture, or even a slipped disc.
Third Trimester (starting at 30-37 weeks)
Once you reach the third trimester of pregnancy, the added weight on your center of gravity is likely to cause postural issues along your spine.
This is when forward head posture and muscle strain are most likely.
Final Words on Neck Pain In early pregnancy
Neck pain during pregnancy can be due a variety of reasons.
It is important you speak with your provider to rule out the more serious causes first.
Otherwise, gentle conservative treatment might offer you some pain relief.
Now I want to hear from you.
Did you suffer from neck and/or upper back pain during your pregnancy?
If so, what did you do to alleviate your pain?
What worked for you?
Comment below and let me know.
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Brittany N Robles, MD, MPH, CPT
Brittany Robles is a full-time OBGYN, a NASM certified personal trainer, and health & fitness, expert. She holds a Masters of Public Health degree in maternal health with a special interest in exercise and nutrition. She is also the co-author of The White Coat Trainer. Learn more about her here.
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- Sibbritt D, Ladanyi S, Adams J. Healthcare practitioner utilisation for back pain, neck pain and/or pelvic pain during pregnancy: an analysis of 1835 pregnant women in Australia. Int J Clin Pract. 2016 Oct;70(10):825-831. doi: 10.1111/ijcp.12870. Epub 2016 Sep 12. PMID: 27620139.
- Kesikburun S, Güzelküçük Ü, Fidan U, Demir Y, Ergün A, Tan AK. Musculoskeletal pain and symptoms in pregnancy: a descriptive study. Ther Adv Musculoskelet Dis. 2018;10(12):229-234. Published 2018 Nov 19. doi:10.1177/1759720X18812449