Headache and Stiff Neck in Pregnancy

Posted by Lucy Jones on

Before a pregnancy, people love to warn you about all of the different aches and pains you’re going to experience. Foot pain, indigestion, bloating – the list goes on and on. But two pains that people forget to mention is the combination of neck pain and headaches that sometimes plague pregnant mothers.

While each pregnancy is different, most mothers experience at least some combination of these two pains at some point during the nine months they are carrying their child. The body is undergoing many drastic changes, and as a result the additional weight can lead to aches and strains.

There are several different remedies for mothers who are dealing with persistent neck pain and headaches. Some of them involve lifestyle changes, while others incorporate devices like the Neck Hammock, which can provide both immediate and long-term relief. In most cases, it takes a combination of these different remedies to wholly address the issue, but often, real relief won’t come until the child is born. Your best bet is to manage the pain as it comes while using strategies that are healthy for your infant.  

Causes of Stiff Necks and Headaches

If you’re experiencing persistent stiffness in your neck accompanied by headaches, there are several possible causes for your condition. While this pain can be frustrating, it’s important to note that it’s temporary and often manageable. With small adjustments to your daily self-care regimen and neck stretches for a stiff neck, you can drastically reduce the recurrence of these headaches while improving your ability to manage the pain.

Reduction in Exercise

In the early stages of pregnancy, most women experience fatigue. Throughout the pregnancy, as a mother’s weight increases and mobility decreases, serious gym time and physical activities are not safe for both the mother and growing child. While a slowdown in physical activity is wise and normal, a total cessation in physical activities can have several detrimental effects on your muscles.

While your hormone levels are fluctuating, your joints tend to soften, and more strain is placed on your muscles. When you don’t use these muscles or give them the exercise they need to retain their strength, they can slowly atrophy. This can lead to muscle soreness, which may result in stiffness in the neck.

  • Reduction in exercise can cause muscles to atrophy at a time when more demand is placed on those muscles, resulting in neck pain and a severe headache

Changes in Posture

Your spine is naturally curved, but during pregnancy that curvature is exaggerated. To make room for the baby, the vertebrae around the lower back move significantly, which can add stress to the muscles in your lower back.

Your body works as if on a string – changes in one part often affect the rest. When stress is added to your lower back, it changes the demands on the muscles in your neck and shoulders. This can lead to serious neck stiffness during pregnancy. As a solution, many obstetricians recommend gentle stretching, which can be done with the aid of a cervical traction device like Neck Hammock.

  • During pregnancy, your spine’s curve is exaggerated to accommodate the growing baby which adds stress to the muscles in your lower back
  • The added stress to the muscles of the lower back affect the muscles in the neck and upper back, which can lead to headaches and a stiff neck


Remaining in a fixed position for an extended period of time – or even drastically reducing the amount of movements you make in a day – can lead to muscle soreness and stiffness. Your body requires movement to keep muscles warm and limber, and during the later stages of pregnancy it becomes more difficult to get the movement you need.

The consequences of immobility are felt most strongly in the parts of the body which experience strain, and during pregnancy the neck is often quite vulnerable. Sheer lack of movement can thereby lead to headaches and neck pain.

  • Lack of movement, especially in the later stages of pregnancy, can lead to neck pain and headaches

Sleeping Position

During pregnancy, most women are advised to sleep on their left side. There are several reasons for this, but in many cases this mandate results in neck pain. Sleeping in any one position for an extended period of time can be stressful and lead to both stiffness and headaches.

  • Pregnant women are advised to sleep on their left side, which can often lead to neck pain

Relieving Neck Pain and Headaches

Most doctors will advise pregnant mothers to avoid pain-relief medications. They can create unnecessary pregnancy complications and have unexpected effects on the pregnancy. However, this does not mean that pregnant mothers should be expected to endure the various pains of pregnancy without taking some action.

There are many simple steps that pregnant mothers can take to help with pain relief; even minor changes can go a long way. If you’re unsure about the efficacy of a remedy, consult with your doctor to double check if it is right for you.


One of the themes that tied all of the different common causes of neck pain together was immobility. In response, one of the best solutions is to stretch out the muscles that are giving you trouble. However, most people aren’t sure how to stretch out the neck. Rolling your head around won’t do it, and cracking your neck can be dangerous. By using stretching devices like Neck Hammock, a traction device which gently pulls on the cervical spine, you can achieve immediate and long-term relief from these aches.

  • Cervical traction devices like Neck Hammock can help gently pull on the head and stretch the muscles in your neck area

Hot and Cold Showers

Also known as hydrotherapy, using waters at different temperatures, targeted at the problem area, can be a great way to reduce the amount of neck pain that you’re experiencing. When you’re in the shower, allow water to run over your neck. Alternate, for several minutes each between cold and hot.

Hot water has the wonderful effect of improving blood circulation. This provides relief to muscles that might be tensed up and stiff. Cold water works to soothe and reduce inflammation.

  • Take a shower and alternate between hot and cold water
  • Hot water improves blood circulation and relieves tense muscles
  • Cold water reduces inflammation

Get a Massage

There’s never a bad time to get a massage, and during pregnancy it can be especially helpful. If your problem is muscle soreness, especially in the neck and shoulder area, massages that directly target the region can loosen muscles and promote relaxation. These benefits will help curb whatever headaches you may feel, and can promote an overall sensation of well-being.

  • Massages that directly target your neck and shoulders can alleviate pain in the area
  • Massages also promote relaxation and feelings of well-being, which can reduce stress-related headaches

Water-Based Exercise

While full-blown exercise sessions may not be the best idea for a pregnant mother, water-based exercises provide a healthy and safe alternative. By conducting light exercises in water, you can work out atrophying muscles, regain mobility, and improve blood circulation all while in a safe, gravity-free environment.

If you want to attempt water-based exercises, consult with your doctor and determine which might be the best for you.

  • Water based exercises are generally safe and convenient for pregnant mothers

Problematic Neck Pain

It’s important to distinguish between normal neck pain and bad neck pain. While most pregnant women will experience the normal – if frustrating – kind of neck pain, there are other types that might signal a larger issue that muscle stiffness.

Ectopic Pregnancy

Extreme neck pain very early in a pregnancy is not normal. It can be a symptom of ectopic pregnancy (or tubal pregnancy) which means that the fertilized egg is existing outside of the uterus. It’s rare but resolvable, and should be immediately addressed by your doctor or obstetrician.  


Meningitis is usually the result of an infection. It can manifest as a stiff neck coupled with bad headaches and a fever. If left untreated, it can prove fatal to an unborn baby. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, you should immediately consult your physician.

Preventing Stiff Necks and Headaches

While you’re almost guaranteed to experience some soreness during your pregnancy, there are ways to proactively combat the pain. You shouldn’t be forced to endure daily headaches and neck stiffness, and it’s possible to assuage the worst of it.  

Choosing the Right Pillow

It’s hard to stress how important it is to choose the right pillows during your pregnancy. Every night, the strain of sleeping on one side can be difficult on the body, and if you’re using a pillow that is too hard or uncomfortable it can lead to pretty intense neck pain.

Make sure your pillow is comfortable, soft, and one that you can really sink into. Don’t force yourself to use an uncomfortable pillow if you can avoid it.

  • Avoid hard, uncomfortable pillows during your pregnancy (and after!)

Read more in our related blog post about the benefits of a good night’s sleep.

Meeting People and Things at Eye Level

During your pregnancy it will be tempting to fall into the most comfortable position, which is often a slouch. When you do this, you’re forced to adjust the tilt of your head to meet the thing you’re looking at. This can lead to neck problems.

If you’re someone who works at a computer all day, make sure that it’s positioned in an area that doesn’t require you to look up or down at the screen. The hours spent with your head tilted at an uncomfortable angle will compound with the other pregnancy-related stressors placed on your neck.

  • Adjust your computer screen so that you are looking straight at it
  • Avoid holding your head at an uncomfortable angle for sustained periods of time

Daily Stretching

Most people either stretch preventatively or they stretch when symptoms arise, but the wisest decision is to regularly do both. If you adopt a light, daily stretching routine during your pregnancy, you will keep your muscles limber and ready for the strains that accompany changes to your body.

Stretching your neck can be difficult, but with the aid of traction devices like Neck Hammock it becomes easy and convenient. By gently pulling on the head, the vertebrae in your neck lightly decompress, improving both range of motion and mobility. With Neck Hammock, you can practice traction without leaving your home. Learn more about What is a Cervical Traction Device and Cervical Traction Benefits in our related blog articles.

  • Adopt a daily stretching routine
  • Improve mobility in the neck by using cervical traction devices like Neck Hammock

See a Chiropractor

If approved by your physician, a chiropractor can help alleviate pain in the joints around your neck and shoulders and can help you better understand how your pregnancy is affecting your body. No two pregnancies are the same, so it can be helpful to have someone advising you who understands how the body works.

  • Consider consulting a chiropractor
  • Make sure the visit is approved by your physician


It’s totally normal for pregnant women to experience headaches and neck pain. Almost every single woman will experience these sharp pains during some point in their pregnancy. They arise through a combination of lifestyle changes, body changes, immobility, hormones, and stress.

While neck pain is normal, there are times when severe neck pain can indicate a serious problem. If you find that you’re experiencing pain that far exceeds normal neck stiffness, consult with your physician immediately. While it may be nothing serious, there’s a possibility that it is a symptom of a larger issue with the pregnancy.

It’s wise to take preventative measures to combat neck stiffness and headaches during pregnancy. These steps aren’t drastic and can be done in the comfort of your home. Simple stretches using the bundles that include Neck Hammock devices can target problem areas in the neck and provide both immediate and long-term relief. Swimming and other water-based activities can keep your muscles warm and strong. Finally, making sure that your environment – including your pillows and computer screens – are adapted to the needs of your pregnancy can be helpful. With these tips, you should able to stave off both neck pain and the accompanying headaches!


  1. NCBI: “ The effectiveness of complementary manual therapies for pregnancy-related back and pelvic pain.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5044890/
  2. Mayo Clinic: “Ectopic Pregnancy.” https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ectopic-pregnancy/symptoms-causes/syc-20372088
  3. What to Expect, “Relieving Neck Pain.” https://www.whattoexpect.com/pregnancy/keeping-fit/week-32/neck-know-how.aspx