Can Anxiety Cause Neck Pain?

Posted by Lucy Jones on

Identifying the source of neck pain can be a challenge. There are many potential and common causes of neck pain, and while you cycle through the possibilities, the ongoing pain can be aggravating. However, in many cases, people are surprised to find that the source of neck pain is not physical – it can be caused by stress and anxiety.

While reducing anxiety can be difficult (but totally possible!), managing the associated neck pain is much simpler a feat. Proactive measures can range from lifestyle changes to the use of simple neck traction devices, like the Neck Hammock, which gently stretch the affected area and promote long-term health. However, before we get into the ways to manage the chronic pain associated with anxiety and neck pain, it’s important to understand the causes and effects of anxiety.

What is Anxiety?

Most people believe that anxiety is purely a bad thing. They associate it with negative emotions, experiences, and memories, and conclude on their own that it must itself be bad. However, anxiety is a fairly normal emotion and has several important functions that are directly tied to your wellbeing.  

Professional medical associations have defined anxiety as, “An emotion, characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.” While most people are familiar with these symptoms, they are unsure why their bodies react in this way. The modern contexts in which we experience anxiety don’t offer many clues, so it can be helpful to think about historical precedent when trying to understand our anxiety, and how our anxiety can contribute to neck pain.

Historical Precedents for Anxiety

Our ancestors lived in a much different world. Absent our comforting amenities, they were forced to face threats like wild animals and environmental hazards without much protection. As a defense mechanism, their bodies would enter a hyper-alert state, characterized by an increased heartbeat, sensitivity to their surroundings, muscle tensing, and sweating. Today, we call these symptoms anxiety.

While modern life has largely protected us from these threats, our bodies still produce the same kind of “fight or flight” response when encountering situations that make us uncomfortable. If we’re going into an important meeting, or have to deliver a difficult message, we may grow anxious because our bodies believe we are about to engage with something challenging.

In modern contexts, anxiety keeps us from stepping into the street without looking both ways, and sets off warning signs when someone starts to drive recklessly when we’re in the passenger seat. It alerts us to potential risks, and gives us a heads up when we should be tuned into something hazardous.

  • Historically, our ancestors required a “fight or flight” reaction in response to danger
  • Anxiety induced a hyper-alert state that allowed us to navigate environmental risks

Anxiety and Neck Pain

When your body enters an anxious state, one effect is that your muscles become tense. Your body is attempting to become stronger and to potentially defend against attacks. The other reason is offensive – if your muscles are tense, you are better prepared to react and act decisively. However, when we experience anxiety in modern contexts, we don’t often take advantage of or release this muscular tension.

When people experience neck pain as a result of anxiety, this is typically why. They are experiencing constant tightness and tension in their neck, and when their muscles repeatedly tense up to no real end, they begin to experience soreness and muscle pain.  

Anxiety Induced Neck Tension Symptoms

Neck tension as a result of anxiety can manifest in several different ways. Often, the affected area extends beyond the neck and into the shoulders and upper back. The body’s response to anxiety is a universal clenching of the muscles, and while the neck is especially sensitive there are other parts of the body that might be experiencing similar soreness.

  • Constant or unrelenting soreness in the neck, shoulders, or upper back region; this pain doesn’t go away for sustained periods of time
  • “Radiating pain” that beings in the back of the head, which can feel like a tight band has been wrapped around the head
  • Urge to “crack” the neck by rolling head around or twisting it
  • Pain can range from mild to severe
  • Pain occurs in conjunction with episodes of anxiety, often immediately following the first wave

Managing Anxiety Related Neck Pain

There are several ways to handle your anxiety related neck pain. Most of them don’t require the aid of a professional, like a physical therapist, and can be done from the comfort of your own home.

It should also be noted that techniques used to alleviate neck pain should be considered as more than a one-time treatment. If you incorporate these strategies into a routine, it’s possible to not only alleviate neck pain but strengthen the entire region while improving mobility.

Yoga

Practicing yoga can have a twofold effect on managing your high anxiety related neck pain. It’s a healthy habit that has a positive effect on your overall well-being – mentally and physically – and can be a great way to socialize.

Yoga involves deep, sustained stretches that relieve tension everywhere in the body while vastly improving mobility. Stretching in these guided, relaxing ways also has a positive effect on your mental health, which can lead to a decrease in anxiety.

  • Practicing yoga improves flexibility throughout the body, and can relieve tension in the neck
  • Stretching is relaxing, and yoga can help decrease your anxiety

Cut Unhealthy Habits

Most of us have at least a few unhealthy habits that we could reign in. When we engage in unhealthy habits, they can promote anxiety while increasing the tension we experience when we feel stressed. They can directly lead to neck pain.

Some of the most common unhealthy habits that contribute to anxiety and tension include:

  • Drinking caffeine, especially in the hours before we go to sleep
  • Smoking cigarettes, which can endanger your overall health
  • Eating junk food, which doesn’t supply the necessary nutrients your body requires

Stretching the Neck

There are several ways to directly target neck pain, and one of them involves stretching the neck area. However, it can be very difficult to do this without the aid of a traction device. Simply rolling your head around will not provide the necessary relief for those who are experiencing considerable levels of neck pain.

Traction devices, like Neck Hammock, help target the affected area. By gently pulling on the head, Neck Hammock decreases compression in the cervical spine – the bones in your neck – and thereby stretches the surrounding area. The benefits are long-term, and can help relieve the built-up tension causing you pain. Read more about the specifics of how to use the Neck Hammock and learn more in our related blog article about neck stretches for a stiff neck.

  • Use traction devices like Neck Hammock to decompress the vertebrae in your neck
  • Promote long-term health in the area

Exercise

Like yoga, exercising can attack the root causes of your neck pain from multiple angles. It doesn’t matter whether you chose to exercise at home, outside, or in a gym – the net result is a decrease in anxiety, a boost in an overall sense of well-being, and strengthening of the body which can improve symptoms of chronic neck pain.

  • Exercise can decrease anxiety while boosting other markers of well-being
  • Exercise strengthens the body and can improve the ability of your neck to withstand the tension that results from anxiety

Cervical Traction for Neck Pain

One of the best ways to specifically target neck pain that results from anxiety is a process called cervical traction. The cervical spine is the uppermost region of the spine, composed of several vertebrae that hold your head in place. The vertebrae – or disks – in the cervical spine can become compressed as a result of tension in the area, and it can be helpful to decompress them and improve mobility.

Decompressing the cervical spine may sound like a difficult task, but devices like Neck Hammock have made it easy, safe, and manageable from the comfort of your own home. Some cervical traction devices are bulky and difficult to transport, but Neck Hammock was designed for portability and can be a key component in your fight against neck pain no matter where you are.

How Cervical Traction Works

Cervical traction is one of the most popular neck pain treatments. It’s lauded for its ability to directly address the root issues of neck pain and provide sustained, long-term relief. While it defends against neck pain, it also promotes mobility in the area, which improves the neck’s ability to rotate and hold the head safely.

Traction works by gently pulling the head away from the neck. Compared to other cervical traction devices which may pose a risk to the neck, Neck Hammock gently cups the back of the head and creates space between the vertebrae in the cervical spine. If users feel uncomfortable at any time, they can simply sit up and disengage from the device.  

  • Cervical traction gently pulls head away from the neck, decompressing the cervical spine

Benefits of Cervical Traction

While cervical traction is often used to treat neck pain, it can be helpful in several different ways. Through the process of decompression, the entire neck area becomes stretched and relaxed. Repeated use of devices like Neck Hammock can promote long-term health in the neck and can improve mobility and strength.

  • Cervical traction relaxes tense muscles, which can provide immediate relief to those experiencing anxiety related neck pain
  • Stretching the cervical spine improves range of motion and mobility
  • Decompressing vertebrae in the neck relieves pressure and pain
  • Pain resulting from muscle spasms and soreness can be greatly reduced

Studies have found that cervical traction can have an instant effect on neck pain. The process of decompression in the cervical spine alleviates all of the varying physical causes of anxiety related neck pain: tension, immobility, and alignment. The more consistently that users attempt treatment, the more improvement they will see in their treatment.  

How to Decrease Anxiety

When you’re experiencing neck pain as a result of regular anxiety, one obvious approach might be to attempt to decrease your anxiety. There are numerous ways to do this, however if you experience an unusually high amount of anxiety it’s possible that you are suffering from an anxiety-related condition. These are common, and doctors are prepared to help you.

Decrease Caffeine Intake

It seems like modern life practically requires some form of caffeine intake. It’s hard to find the motivation to sit down to work every single day; without that little caffeine boost, it can feel impossible to get the ball rolling. However, caffeine is also a stimulant that directly affects your heart rate and can simulate and promote the symptoms of anxiety.

Decreasing your amount of caffeine intake, which might simply mean a change from coffee to tea, can have a monumental difference on the amount of anxiety that you feel on a daily basis. This can go a long way towards decreasing your neck pain.

Laughter

Studies have shown that laughter can help boost everything from your mood to your immune system. The full range of benefits have yet to be discovered, but laughter’s effect on anxiety is well documented. Laughing helps relieve stress and relaxes your neck muscles. You can both reduce your anxiety and directly affect the amount of muscle tension in your neck. Attend comedy nights or rent funny movies, or spend more time with friends that make you laugh. Although it may feel odd, even faking laughter and forcing a smile can trick the body into releasing dopamine and help reduce neck pain.

Take Control

Many people experience anxiety because they find themselves incapable of saying “no” when asked to do something. Whether this is at work or in their personal life, the ability to say “no” promotes a sense of control that can decrease the anxiety symptoms.

If we think about the historical precedent, anxiety emerges when we might be encountering an unpredictable or uncontrollable situation. By saying “no” to things, we take back some of that control and thereby lessen the amount of anxiety that we feel. This can have a direct impact on your neck pain.

Don’t Procrastinate

Putting things off to the last minute is a well-known and easily avoidable cause of anxiety. While many don’t think of the correlation between time-management and their neck pain, time-management and anxiety are quite clearly connected.

If you improve your ability to complete tasks on time, you will find that both your anxiety – and neck pain – will decrease.

Summary

Managing neck pain can be made simple through a process of addressing the symptoms and causes of anxiety, and by using devices like Neck Hammock (included in various bundles) to directly target the physical causes of that pain. By adopting a general wellness routine, you will be able to not only decrease the amount of neck pain you experience, but create a healthier, happier life for yourself.

Sources

  1. American Psychological Association, “Anxiety.” https://www.apa.org/topics/anxiety/
  2. Spine, “Intermittent Cervical Traction for Treating Neck Pain: A Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials.” https://journals.lww.com/spinejournal/Citation/2017/07010/Intermittent_Cervical_Traction_for_Treating_Neck.4.aspx
  3. NCBI, “Association of Depression/Anxiety Symptoms with Neck Pain.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6176305/