One of the most common questions asked about neck pain is whether stress can cause neck pain. And the short answer is, “yes!”
We know that stress-related pains in the neck and shoulders are usually the result of emotionally driven tension and anxiety which can affect the primary muscles and nerves running through the spine, shoulders, and neck. As you tense up, cortisol levels also increase, resulting in inflammation. This can add to the tightening of the surrounding muscles, and subsequently contributes to increased neck and shoulder pain.
When our bodies are stressed, our endocrine function is also affected. This is largely because stress involves what we know as the “stress hormone” — cortisol.
In addition to being the principle modulator of our body’s “fight or flight” response, cortisol works with parts of the gut-brain axis to control mood, motivation and fear. This means that during peak periods of stress, we tense up, and become ready to spring into action, but prolonged periods of stress can tax the muscles, causing a build-up of lactic acid and result in muscle fatigue.
Studies have demonstrated that when cortisol levels are elevated for extended periods of time the adrenal system may also be adversely impacted. We often see this referred to by a non-medical term: “adrenal fatigue”. This term is applied to a collection of nonspecific symptoms, such as body aches, fatigue, nervousness, sleep disturbances and digestive problems, which could result in more serious conditions, if left ignored.
The symptoms of adrenal fatigue are said to include:
- trouble getting to sleep and waking up
- craving salt and sugar
- unexplained weight loss
- reliance on stimulants such as caffeine
- nonspecific digestive problems
- muscle stiffness or pain
Making matters worse, prolonged stress not only makes our neck, shoulder and back muscles tighten, but the pain from that experience can trigger increased anxiety, which starts a cycle of stress-pain-increased stress that becomes difficult to interrupt.
Strategies for dealing with neck pain from stress
Here are some steps that can help us manage our neck pain from stress:
- Massage therapy is one of the best ways to reduce pain in the neck. It can help push out some of the tension in our bodies and release some of the stress that causes this type of neck pain.
- Taking a hot bath or shower can be soothing for tense muscles. Heat helps encourage the muscles to release tension.
- Gentle neck stretches can loosen muscle tightness and assist range of motion for our neck.
- Exercise can help releases endorphins, a hormone that generates feelings of happiness and well-being, reducing the anxiety and stress that accompanies neck pain, while strengthening and toning our muscles at the same time.
- Supporting physical therapy with a scientifically-proven, functional foods-based protocol that encourages production of helpful fibroblast growth factors, to boost the body’s ability to heal itself will ensure the benefits from movement therapy, exercise and stretching last.
- Yoga or meditation can help calm anxious thoughts and anxieties.
Understanding that our health is a priority and focusing on what’s most important is essential. These strategies can reduce some of the effects of muscle tension.
Our unique program teaches you how to target the source of pain to achieve relief so you can:
- Sleep well through the night
- Be well-rested and focused at work
- Have the energy and desire to exercise
- Engage in life on your terms
We recommend allowing our pain specialists to talk with you about directed comfort strategies, focusing on the nerves in the neck, shoulders and spine.