Can Stress Cause Neck Stiffness?

Posted by Lucy Jones on

If you’re asking the question, “can stress cause neck stiffness?” then chances are that you’re experiencing both stress and neck stiffness.

The truth is that there are a lot of different reasons for neck stiffness. For example, neck stiffness can be caused by injury, sleeping in the wrong position, or chronic underlying health issues.

The question whether stress can cause neck stiffness may not be a simple one to answer. In other words, it may not be a quick yes or no. Continue reading to learn some of the details of why this is.

You’ll also learn what stress is, why we experience it, how to reduce it, how to relieve the symptoms of a stiff neck, and more.

What Exactly is Stress?

Though many of us experience stress on a regular basis, we may not ask think about what it is.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, “Stress is the body’s reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response. The body reacts to these changes with physical, mental, and emotional responses. Stress is a normal part of life. You can experience stress from your environment, your body, and your thoughts. Even positive life changes such as a promotion, a mortgage, or the birth of a child produce stress.”

While the human body is designed to handle stress and certain types of stress can even be positive, the chronic unhealthy stress associated with neck stiffness and neck movement can cause a whole host of issues.

This is because the stress response was used by early humans to keep us safe and alert in dangerous situations. Our stress response was what allowed us to be aware of the danger of a snake, for instance, and to know whether to fight or to run away.

In the modern age, our stress response is activated over extended periods of time instead of the short bursts it was intended for. This is resulting in chronic health issues and acute symptoms, such as headaches, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, sleeping problems, stress and anxiety, and emotional issues.

It’s important to remember that not all stress is bad. In fact, when you go to the gym to workout, your putting your body under a specific type of stress that causes it to undergo the reaction of gaining muscle.

While this is generally thought of as positive stress, the truth is if you were in the gym 24/7, your body would get weak, injured, and sick.

Positive stress is often called eustress, like with the same “eu” beginning as euphoria. Though stress is often used to talk about the negative type of stress, the technical term for negative or unhealthy stress is distress.

The Link Between Stress and Neck Stiffness

Most of us have experienced or know someone who has experienced a headache related to emotion, stress, or anxiety. In fact, we have a name for this type of headache, a tension headache.

Tension headaches are caused when a person tenses up their neck muscles. This can cause serious aches and pains, as well as pressure and discomfort in the head and neck and can sometimes result in headaches or migraines.

Generally, someone suffering from a tension headache will also experience a lot of tension in their jaw. They may also be grinding their teeth.

However, the link between stress and neck stiffness isn’t so clear. According to Robert Gotlin, DO, director of orthopedic and sports rehab at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, “Stress is not the likely cause of neck pain, but it can certainly bring out the symptoms of underlying neck pain.”

He went on to say that stress is known to make people feel pain more, whether neck pain or not. This indicates that chronic neck pain isn’t necessarily caused by stress, but that the pain is already there and the stress just makes it more noticeable. This is why stress management is so critical to one's health.

However, other sources, such as the Mayo Clinic, do state that stress can be a cause of neck pain. It’s pretty clear that whether or not it’s the source or just an aggravating factor, stress definitely affects neck pain and stiffness.

In fact, tension in the neck is a commonly listed symptom of anxiety disorder. This indicates a strong linkage between neck stiffness and emotional distress.

Armed with this knowledge, you can reduce your stress and reduce your neck stiffness. We’ll cover ways to do this in the next section.

How to Reduce Stress

The best way to reduce stress is to find the source of the stress and limit your involvement in those events that cause it from appearing.

But the truth is that the major sources of stress are often inevitable parts of our lives. Work, family, traffic, weekly chores, and more can all contribute to a feeling of stress and tension in our neck.

But we also have a lot of tools to manage our stress and minimize it daily. Here are some things you can do to minimize your stress:

  • Stay positive: Stress usually occurs when you’re in a negative mental state, but the problem is that stress can also put you in a more negative mental state. This creates a vicious cycle of stress and negativity. Break the cycle by remaining positive. You can do this by setting an intention at the beginning of the day or by repeating a phrase to yourself. Something like, “I am positive, I am happy”. If that’s too cheesy for you, try journaling about the things you’re thankful for.
  • Accept the things you can’t control: Many times, our stress is caused by the things in our life that we ultimately don’t have control over. Letting these things run their course will reduce your mental stress and free up your time and energy to focus on the things that you can control.
  • Don’t be passive, but don’t be aggressive: Sometimes, our stress is caused because we didn’t stick up for ourselves. Other times it can be caused because we were hotheaded. Try to find the middle ground, sticking up for yourself without being aggressive. It’s not easy, but by staying positive and accepting the things in your life you can’t control, you’ll be on the right path.
  • Practice relaxation: This can come in many forms, but the simplest and most easy is to simply breathe. You can count your breath in cycles of 10. Other great relaxation techniques are yoga and tai-chi. Of course, you can simply take a bath, light a scented candle, or read in your fuzzy socks. Just remember to regularly do things that make you feel relaxed.
  • Exercise: Regular movement will reduce your stress and, as a bonus, can loosen up any stiff neck issues you have. There are many different types of exercises you can do, so the most important thing is that you choose one that’s fun for you. If it’s fun, you’ll be much more likely to do it. You can try running or sprinting, lifting weights, swimming, team sports, or something adventurous like rock climbing. Just be sure to move your muscles and ligaments regularly.
  • Eat Healthy: Eating healthy will reduce your stress, both emotional stress and the stress of removing toxins from your organs and body. Most health professionals recommend eating a balanced diet full of fruits and veggies. Also, remember to stay hydrated throughout the day. A common source of muscle stiffness is dehydration.
  • Get plenty of sleep: Lack of sleep can cause a lot of issues, but a common one is excess stress. This becomes a problem because excess stress can make it hard to fall asleep. A great way to make sure you get enough sleep is by setting a time to go to bed and wake up every morning. A relaxing bedtime routine will give you a chance to unwind and will make it easier to quickly fall asleep.
  • Engage in meaningful relationships: It can be easy to stay at home by yourself, especially if you’re feeling stressed. But, meaningful relationships can be a way to de-stress. Not only will friends help you see the bigger picture, but laughing and smiling will make you forget about worries you’ve been carrying around.
  • Limit screen time: Electronics are extremely useful. They can also be a source of stress for our bodies. Be sure to limit screen time, or at the very least, disable your email notifications. You deserve it.
  • Manage your time: Many people could save themselves from a lot of stress if they managed their time better. For some people, this may be creating a better work-life balance. For others, it may mean keeping a schedule so they’re sure to have time to pursue their hobbies and creative interests.

  • How to Reduce Neck Stiffness

    In addition to being able to reduce stress, it’s helpful to have some quick and easy cures for neck stiffness. In addition to being cures, some of these will also be useful ways to prevent the physical symptoms of neck stiffness from coming back in the future.


    A massage from a certified massage therapist can benefit you in many ways. Not only will it reduce stress, but it will increase circulation and bring relief to your stiff and sore muscles.

    There are a lot of different types of massages and all of them work in different ways. But the main way they work is by releasing muscle tension.

    Different people generally like different types of massages. For example, those who like gentle and broad strokes should seek a Swedish massage. This is the massage you’ll most likely encounter at a spa or wellness center.

    Those seeking a firm, deep massage should have a deep tissue massage. In a deep tissue massage, the therapist will apply firm pressure to the knots and trigger points that are causing tension at the deepest layers of the muscles and soft tissue in your neck.

    This can provide relief for injury or chronic issues, such as muscle imbalances.

    If you’re experiencing a lot of stress, you can seek an aromatherapy massage, in which the therapist will use essential oils to produce relaxing scents. Maybe this is the perfect time to spoil yourself with a spa day.

    Heat Treatment

    An effective treatment for a stiff or sore neck is heat or ice. Though they work in different ways, both can help soothe your discomfort and provide instant pain relief.

    Ice is best applied shortly after an acute injury. When applied during this time, the ice can reduce swelling and discomfort and limit the amount of soft tissue death and damage. Ice should be applied for 20 minutes with a one hour break between icing periods.

    Heat, on the other hand, is great to apply to chronic neck stiffness or while an injury is healing. Heat relaxes the muscles and allows blood to move more freely. You can combine a massage with a heat treatment by getting a hot stone massage, in which heated stones are used on the body.

    You can use heat on your neck at home with a plug-in heating pad.

    Cervical Traction

    Cervical traction is an extremely effective cure for neck stiffness as well as a preventative measure. Cervical traction is usually done with a cervical traction device, in which gentle upward pressure is applied to the head.

    This results in the head being gently lifted away from the neck. This creates expansion and reduces compression in the spine, which increases blood flow, helps end muscle imbalances and other chronic issues, and eases neck stiffness symptoms.

    Cervical traction is known to be extremely effective and fast-acting, making it perfect whether your neck stiffness is acute and occasional or caused by chronic underlying issues, such as chronic stress.

    In addition to providing relief to a tense neck, cervical traction can be used to help heal neck injuries, such as a herniated disc. Cervical traction can also alleviate muscle spasms or pain experienced from a pinched nerve, as well as improve your posture and overall neck health.

    In fact, one study found that cervical traction, “significantly reduced neck pain immediately following treatment,” and that chronic pain was also reduced for a period of time after the treatment.

    Cervical traction is also a good way to relax and unwind after a stressful day.

    The Neck Hammock cervical traction device is designed with the utmost quality and comfort in mind. Pick it up today to make neck stiffness and stress a thing of the past.

    If you neck pain and stiffness just won’t go away, read more about when to see a doctor.