WHY is your Neck Stiff on One Side (Should You Massage It?)

A young woman is holding her neck due to pain

Have you ever woken up from a night of sleep, a long car ride, or gotten up from sitting for hours in a chair and been unable to move your neck as you usually do? Whether you experience muscle stiffness with or without pain, there are steps you can do to improve your neck muscle stiffness.

Your neck can become stiff on one side because of a muscle imbalance from improper posture, poor circulation, nutrient deficiency, and medications that affect your muscles. Your neck muscles may become overstretched or weakened if kept in a certain position for extended periods.

Knowing what type of massage therapy to do and what not to do can mean the difference between healing your stiff neck or prolonging your discomfort. I will break down what to do if you are only experiencing neck muscle stiffness or if it’s neck stiffness along with pain.

When your Neck is Stiff Without pain

Let’s say you are getting up in the morning and everything seems fine until you go to move your head and you are unable to move your neck to the right or move it to the left. So why all of a sudden are you unable to move your neck to one side?

Truthfully, this probably hasn’t just mysteriously happened. For most of us, situations like these are the result of some sort of action. Especially if you unknowingly slept in an awkward position for hours on end, your neck is going to have something to say about it. The same goes for long car rides (especially sleeping in the car) and sitting long hours at a desk or staring down at our electronic devices. Most often our necks will become stiff because of extended periods with poor posture. This creates an imbalance where one muscle is being stretched and the opposing muscle is shortened and weakened.

For this type of muscle stiffness that’s without pain, I recommend first increasing the circulation of the muscles of the entire neck by applying moist or dry heat for up to 15 minutes. Following heat, do myofascial release by planting your hands on the stiff neck muscle and slowly moving them in opposite directions.

Now apply a small amount of oil or lotion to both sides of the neck and do gentle glides (effleurage) on the neck muscles, with the hand, moving towards the heart. Next, gently (active isolated) stretch the stiff neck muscles 6-8 times, holding for no more than 2 seconds for each stretch.

Now, take your neck into a full range of motion. Look side to side, up and down, over each shoulder, and take it into a neck circle that feels comfortable to you.

When your Neck is Stiff With pain

This one, I have to admit, is NOT FUN. The worst thing that can happen when waking up with a painful stiff neck on one side is following bad advice that makes it worse and last longer. I have been there and I want to spare you the added pain and time you’re unable to use your neck as normal.

The first thing people usually run for is the heating pad. It has its place and its place is NOT here. So for a painful stiff neck, I want you to NOT add heat, NOT stretch, and NOT apply trigger point therapy….in the beginning.

From my personal experience and massage therapy education, these things are done NOT immediately when a muscle or muscle group is damaged and inflamed. Doing this when the muscles are inflamed is like adding fuel to a fire. It’s best to bring in these tools and techniques after some healing has taken place.

For a neck that’s stiff on one side with pain, I want you to apply an ice pack for up to 20 minutes. Do this throughout your day as often as you can. Aim for a minimum of 3 ice pack applications per day, as long as you experience pain.

Try not to aggravate your muscles further by avoiding jerking them into positions that cause further cause pain or pressing on them in aggressive ways. Keep your neck in the most comfortable position you can achieve.

If you sense that the inflammation has subsided by 50% you can now apply a small amount of oil or lotion and do glides (effleurage) on all of the neck muscles gliding toward the heart. You can massage your neck as long as it’s comfortable to do so but no more than 30 minutes.

Apply an ice pack after the massage. Maybe by the next day, you feel the pain has significantly decreased and now you feel more stiffness rather than pain. In this case, you can proceed to follow the care instructions given for a stiff neck.

If you still have a good amount of pain, please proceed with calming the inflammation and allowing the damaged muscle fibers to continue to heal.

Continue to Heal your Neck

There are a few extra things you can do to expedite the healing of your stiff neck with or without pain.

Hydration and nutrition must be included when it comes to muscle repair. Without the proper hydration levels and nutrient stores, your muscles will be prone to damage leading to stiffness, cramps, and pain.

Focus on feeding your cells the rainbow of fruits and vegetables, plenty of protein, healthy fats, and carbohydrates from grains and root vegetables. Think of food as fuel for your muscles.

Let’s talk a little bit about posture. This includes driving, when at work, on the couch, and lying in bed. Bringing awareness to our habitual movements and positions will allow us to start to interrupt any bad habits we’ve developed along the way.

Whether standing, sitting, or lying down we want to think in terms of length, positioning our head and neck in an upright long position. Ears, shoulders, and hips should be in alignment.

Support the natural curvatures of your spine and extremities. It may be possible you ended up in an unfavorable position when sleeping because you unconsciously felt uncomfortable. So, check your mattress and pillow and make sure it’s the right support and soft/firmness for you.

Remember that motion is lotion. Our bodies don’t like being in one position for extended periods despite how ergonomic it may be. Switch positions ever so often to prevent muscle stiffness from settling in.

This article was written by and is the intellectual property of www.galeanomassage.com. If this article appears anywhere else on the internet it was stolen from the copyright owner.


The content in this article is for informational, entertainment, and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of medical advice or treatment from a trained qualified physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Galeano Massage nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, or supplements or those diagnosed with a medical illness should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.


I've been practicing Massage Therapy since 2014. I'm a health and wellness enthusiast. I'm always learning and experimenting with different techniques, recipes, and healing modalities. I believe that we need to approach health and wellness from a WHOLE-listic point of view and understand that it will constantly be changing and is never stagnant. We are all unique and what works for one person will not necessarily work for another person. As I grow, change, and experiment I will share what I have learned as it may help someone else in need.

Leave a Reply

Recent Posts