Can your neck hurt because of stress?

Learn more about the connection between stress and pain

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S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise & Fitness), Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology Level 3
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05 March 2021

Can your neck hurt because of stress?

Studies show a close connection between stress and neck pain.1 This is linked to the body's natural response to stress as, when a source of stress is detected, the muscles tense in a protective measure aimed at defending against pain or impact.

This muscle tension is unlikely to pose a problem when stress is a short-lived hassle. When this issue persists longer term, however, pain is likely to become noticeable. It can feel as if there's a knot of pain in the neck or shoulders, for example, and is often accompanied by additional symptoms such as tension headaches. Neck pain caused by stress can then be exacerbated by factors such as poor posture and obesity.

My Self-Care Tip: Causes of neck pain

Discover a few common causes of neck pain here.

Stretches for neck tension

Some general neck stretches may help to ease out a little of the tension in your neck. Try doing these a couple of times a day if possible:

  • Standing, drop your right ear to your right shoulder very slowly while continuing to look ahead. Hold for 10 seconds then swap and lower to the opposite shoulder. Repeat twice more on each side. To increase the stretch, try to keep the shoulders relaxed.
  • Standing again, lower your chin to your chest, hold for 10 seconds and then look up to the ceiling and hold for 10. Repeat twice more, taking care to move the neck very slowly.
  • Next, standing straight, slowly look over your right shoulder and hold for 10 seconds. Return to the centre and then slowly look over your left shoulder for 10 seconds. Repeat this 3 times.

How do you get rid of neck pain from stress?

First of all, I would advise seeing a doctor about any form of neck pain, just to make sure you know for certain what's causing your discomfort. There are, of course, many factors that can lead to neck pain besides stress.

If you know that stress is the reason for your pain, here are a few ways to help ease the problem:

Massage - This could be helpful when stressed as it works on easing tension in the body. Also, depending on the type of massage, this can be a very relaxing activity in itself. It is important to factor in some 'me time' like this when feeling stressed. If you can't get around to having a massage done professionally, have a friend or someone else do it. If this doesn't work for you, try heated lavender bags or a hot water bottle on the area instead. Try to avoid giving your own shoulders a massage.

Posture – Try to think more consciously about how you sit and walk. Are your shoulders hunched over? Are your muscles tight? Are you always looking to the ground instead of ahead? Put reminders to keep your body relaxed and aligned in areas clearly visible to you. Some particular exercises can also improve posture such as plank, back extensions and bridge. You can check out our Get Active videos for advice on how to do some of these movements.

Movement - Speaking of exercise, this is excellent for stress and can actually help to prevent aches and pains from reoccurring. A few particular types of exercise have been found to be particularly helpful for stress levels, such as Tai Chi and Yoga. However, really anything that gets your body moving and allows you to have some fun, free time away from stressful worries is a positive thing.

Address stress - Dealing with stress itself is likely to have a positive impact on neck pain. So, talk to others, set aside a little time for yourself, take up a new hobby. Whatever it is that will give you a break from the issues at play. A herbal stress remedy may also be a help at this time.

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Cut down caffeine – And drink more water instead! Caffeine can heighten the body's natural stress response by increasing levels of the stress hormone cortisol, for example. It is also inflammatory.

Deal with pain – While you work on the kind of lifestyle tips advised above, you may also need a little helping hand to manage your neck pain. Arnica can bring relief from stiffness, aches and pains in the neck so it is a great natural option here. You can apply this topically up to four times daily using our Atrogel Arnica gel.

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Did you know?

Your head exerts up to 12lbs on the spine and when you lower your head (to read a text or check your facebook) this can increase to as much as 60lbs - the same weight as 5 bowling balls!

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