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Stress and anxiety-related neck pain treatments and preventions

Stress and anxiety-related Neck Pain is the most common neck pain. When we stress or have anxiety pain and tension start in our neck. Stress or anxiety, causes pain in our body, we feel pain, stiffness, or tension in our muscles is in the neck and upper shoulders, leading to more severe pain or spasm or, in some cases, chronic pain in our neck and shoulders over time. We have some good news is that our muscles respond well to heat or cold therapy massage or any kind of neck stretches and yoga to relieve pain.

Stress and anxiety-related neck pain

Conditions like tension or spasm in our muscles caused by stress and anxiety are also good responders to stress management methods and techniques; these methods are also useful and recommended

We will explore multiple effective and beneficial techniques that you can use at home or at work to help release muscular tension neck and upper shoulders.

We will also discuss some methods for stress management to help you relieve tension in your neck and shoulders muscles and help you calm your mind. But first, we need to understand

How do stress and anxiety cause muscular tension in our neck that leads to spasms and pain in our shoulders and upper back muscles?

Whenever we are going through a stressful phase in life or when we are experiencing any anxiety or stressful event, our body muscles start to contract due to an automatic reflex reaction from our brain.

This reaction is known as “Fight or Flight” This response is an automatic response of our body to manage stress and may vary in different people according to their conditions and stress level.

This response to any physical and psychological threat is also known as the stress response of our body to face or compete in a threatening situation.

This response creates muscle tension which helps us to prepare ourselves to face or run away from a situation of any physical threat or danger.

There are some psychological stimuli that also contribute to muscular tension such as overthinking about a situation at the present or in the coming future. 

We start to feel psychologically frightened or flight body response which indirectly makes our body tens especially our upper back, neck, and shoulders, as upper shoulders and neck are supplied directly from cranial nerves (nerves direct from the brain and not from the spinal cord).

Therefore psychological stimuli are also contributing to cause stress and anxiety, which can then cause pain or stiffness in our neck and shoulders muscles.

When we are worried or stressed about things, we are not only feeling body stress response “ fight or flight,” but along with muscle tension, there are other symptoms we feel as well.

These symptoms are including increased heart rate, shallow breathing, or a person will breathe quickly, sweating with cold skin.

 We may experience the body stress response in different situations as well such as responding to some news, dealing with work colleagues or taking work pressure, or even in some road traffic accidents and traffic jams which can also create stress and indirectly cause tension in the neck and shoulder muscles.

In some cases, the stress may last for longer due to stressful events may have no clear end, which can cause more tension and chronic stress-related spasm in our neck and shoulder muscles and will need to seek medical advice as it can cause more alarming health issues such as upper back pain and migraine.

Still, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), all of our organs and muscles can go to a relaxed state once the threatening situation is over.

How to treat stress and anxiety-related stiffness and pain in our neck and shoulders muscles.

Stress and anxiety-related neck pain

6 important tips to improve neck stiffness and spasm

1.      Moving around, it is highly recommended to move around every so often and not to stay in one position. We mostly adopt bad posture at home or work, and it will be hard for some people to reverse a bad posture and adopt a good posture.

Physios and doctors highly recommend moving around at work and home. Moving around will help you avoid stiffness in your neck and other body muscles in an unhealthy bad posture, which will indirectly help you avoid developing neck stiffness and spasm. 

2.            Ergonomic adjustments to your working habits. Mostly neck pain also develops due to poor work posture and some habits.

It is recommended to make your computer screen at your eye level so you can see easily and do not bend your neck up or down. Keep always your shoulders relaxed, and if you are taking too many calls and need to use the computer, it will be beneficial to use a hands-free/headset or keep your phone a speaker.

If you are using a laptop, always use a laptop holder or keep your laptop or tablet on a pillow for support in your lap so you have enough support while.

If you have stress and anxiety-related neck stiffness or pain due to workload or pressure from a bad boss, these small changes will help you relieve stress from your neck and shoulders muscles.

3.            Check your eyesight: sometimes continuous focusing on the screen makes our eyesight weak if we are suffering from any eye irritation, tension headaches, or neck stiffness/soreness, please check your eyesight.

If you are already wearing glasses or contact lenses, make sure your prescription is up to date so you can see better and avoid bending your neck or continuous focusing.

4.            Pillow adjustment. A good night deep sleep always helps us to keep calm, relax, focus, and have more energy but a broken sleep can make us irritate and will have negative effects on our energy as well as productivity.

It is recommended that we must not sleep with too many pillows or without a pillow.

We always need good neck support for a good night's sleep. Our pillow should be neither too high nor too low but has to be a good support level to support our head weight and avoid stiffness and spasm in our neck muscles over the night.

5.            Always get enough sleep (deep sound sleep). as we discussed above, sleep will help our energy and productivity level.

Lack of sleep or broken sleep may also cause neck and shoulders spasms that can lead to chronic pain.

6.            Always know your potentials and limits. If you need to lift some heavy tools at work or need to lift something at work/home, always ask for help.

To avoid neck and shoulders pain/injuries when you are weight lifting at the gym, try to avoid excessive weight lifting, avoid overdoing things more than your limits.

For a living, we all know that we have to do work and face challenges or face challenging situations and people which can give us stress and pain.

Avoiding living a hectic life is not easily possible. Still, we can use some methods and techniques to help avoid developing anxiety, stress-related stiffness, and pain in our neck and shoulders.

Following are some stretches and exercises. Making them part of your daily routine will help you prevent pain and stiffness or spasm in your neck and shoulders.

Here are some illustrations of exercises for you to try. The activities may be suggested for a condition or rehabilitation. Start each practice slowly. Ease off the routines if you start to have pain.

Neck rotation

•             Start by sitting in a fixed chair or standing up straight; it's your choice.

•             Keep your jaw level, move your head to the right, and hold for fifteen to thirty secs.

•             Move your head to the left and hold for fifteen to thirty seconds.

•             Repeat 2 to 4 times to each side.

Neck rotation

Neck side to side movements

Neck side to side movements

•             Look straight forward, and touch your right ear to your right shoulder.

•             Do not let your left shoulder elevate as you touch your head to the right.

•             Now hold this position for fifteen to thirty seconds.

•             Now tilt your head to the left.

•             Do not let your right shoulder elevate as you touch your head to the left.

•             Hold for 15 to 30 seconds.

Shoulders shrugs

 Start from sitting on the floor or sit in a chair; keep your body and lower back and shoulders relax

•             Slowly raise both shoulders as much as possible, like you are touching your ears with your shoulders. While doing these exercises, always keep your head and neck relaxed

•             Always keep hold for 10-15 seconds

•             Make 5-10 repetitions

Gentle Releasing Neck Exercises

Gently releasing neck muscles will help you lose neck and shoulders muscles and will reduce tension in muscles. The best way to perform these exercises is sitting or standing. You can do them either in the office or at home.

1.            Stand tall or sit on a comfortable chair with both arms relaxed, hanging at your sides with dropped relaxed shoulders. 

2.            Move your head towards your chest and so your chin can reach your chest or try to move your chin towards your chest.

3.            Then tilt your head gently towards the right shoulder like you need to touch your right ear with your right shoulder. Keep hold for 15-30 seconds to feel stretch in your left side of the neck and upper shoulder. 

4.            Fter 15-30 seconds hold, bring your head to normal position and then tilt to the left side to feel stretch on your right side neck and upper shoulder.

5.            Repeat for 10-15 repetitions.

6.            Perform 2-3 sets of 10-15 exercises per day.

Child’s Pose yoga

 Child’s Pose is a well-known yoga pose recommended by several therapists to help you relieve neck and shoulders pain as well as lower back pain, it is gentle and relaxing to help calm your neck and shoulders muscles

1.            Get the floor with both arms/elbows and palms on the floor and both your knees bent and heels under your glutes/hips.

2.            Sit your heels or try to sit back on heels, keep gentle stretch and lengthen your spine, then make sure to hinge at your hips and move your hands in front of you.

3.            Gently and gradually move forward and backward with extended arms in front of your body.

4.            Hold for 60 to 90 seconds and keep deep breathing. It will help you release tension in the neck and shoulder muscles.

5.            Return to start and repeat for 5-10 repetitions.

Cat cow pose

•             Flinch on all fours through your neck, not taking sides.

•             Your hands have to be without delay underneath your shoulders, and your knees must be immediately underneath your hips.

•             On your subsequent inhale, tuck your pelvis and spherical out your mid-back. Draw your navel towards your backbone and drop your head to loosen up your neck.

•             After 3-5 seconds, exhale and return to a neutral backbone position.

•             Then flip your face towards the sky, permitting your lower back to sink towards the floor. Hold for 3-5 seconds.

•             Repeat this sequence five times.

Treatment for Stress and Anxiety Related Neck Pain

1)            Hot/Cold Therapy: it is also helpful to apply the first 15 minutes of clod (frozen peas or ice) in a tea towel for vasoconstriction and then heat vasodilation in simple words to bring more blood circulation to the painful muscles will relieve pain

Heat is one of the best treatments for managing neck pain at home take a hot/cold pack to keep in the microwave for under a minute, keep it in a wet towel (tea towel)  apply for 10 to 15 minutes (make sure not to raise the temperature of hot/cold pack to cause burn)

2)            Over the counter medication: use any painkillers that suit you, it will help you relieve pain and you can do some pain-free stretches as well as self-massage

3)            Apply TENS: TENS will help your neck and shoulder muscles and nerves to relax by increasing natural painkillers in your neck and shoulders area Nerves to help your pain and stiffness improve (PIC)

4)            Apply Heat Patch: any heat patch will help you on the go most recommended ones are Cura-Heat, Deep Heat

5)            Self Massage: take some warm oil or lotion stand or sit in front of a mirror and apply deep massage around the neck and upper shoulders with both hands (it will be painful but will relieve pain and make muscles relax)

6)            Hot shower/Bath: Taking hot bath or shower will also help relieve pain

7)            Adjust your workstation and screen level watch your posture (link posture)

8)            Keep Moving:  Take mini-breaks and Keep doing gentle stretches and neck movements during work

9)            Adjust pillow: Broken sleep is also one of the main reason for neck pain if your pillow is not the correct size and you keep moving or keep adjusting your sleep positions will need to change your pillow please read our pillow adjustments advice

Tips for Stress and Anxiety management:

Experiencing stress in life is part of the game; now how we can handle our stress and anxiety to win the game is very important.

It is human nature to feel anxious about different aspects of life, either work or family or personal health can cause stress and anxiety, but we need to learn how to cope with and respond positively during a stressful time and keep ourselves calm.

This will help us to become more focused on the solutions of a problem as well as it will also help our body to play perform well and we will not feel pain and tension in our muscles.

You are the main player of your game in life, so you have to look after yourself and keep prepared. Here are some tips and strategies to help you calm and relax during a stressful time.

1)            Stop overthinking: there may be not any problem but your overthinking will make a big monster issue in your thoughts so please stop overthinking

2)            Face your fears: the more you avoid the more you will be in stress but once you face a situation, you will find a solution and will come out from a problem so the quicker you face your problem and find a solution will be helpful to avoid stress and anxiety

3)            Keep doing some exercise: any exercises will help your circulation and will help to lower your stress level down

4)            Deep Breathing Exercises: taking deep breaths will help your fresh brain oxygen and will improve circulation to your brain, which will directly help you calm down.

5)            Yoga and Meditation: will help relax focus and will calm down your stressful muscles which will directly reduce tension in your neck and shoulders muscles

6)            Avoid overeating: the more you feel bloated and eat more you will feel stressed and lazy therefore, to avoid any sort of stress and anxiety, keep a healthy diet and watch your weight regularly.

Conclusion:

Stress and anxiety can cause pain in our neck and shoulders due to our body's natural stress response. Muscles in our neck and shoulders respond well to massage, heat, and exercises.

If you do not feel any improvements with self-management at home or your pain is getting worst, please always seek advice from a doctor or see a physical therapist.

Find always a physical therapist who is also trained in massage therapy to help you release neck shoulders muscular tension with massage and manual manipulation.

Abdur Rashid
Medically Reviewed By Abdur Rashid
MSC Public Health, MCSP, MHCPC
BSC (Hon) Physiotherapy
Consultant Neuro-spinal & Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist

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