Stress pains in neck


Stress Management and Neck Pain

Exercise. Physical activity will get your blood flowing and your muscles moving. Neck exercises are a great way to relieve tension and an important part of the treatment for neck pain. Ask your doctor which exercises are safe for you. “The neck needs to move,” advises Gotlin. “Stretching, movement from side to side, and aerobic activity to get the blood flow going are best.”

Take care of yourself. Developing healthy habits can help reduce stress, so eat a healthy diet. Avoid coffee and caffeinated beverages that can make you more agitated and interfere with sleep. And don’t smoke — smoking slows healing because it decreases the blood supply to the muscles in your neck.

Learn relaxation techniques. Techniques that can reduce stress include deep breathing, yoga , meditation, and art or music therapy. Choose one you can do during the day to slow down and relax.

Get a massage. A gentle massage is a great way to relieve stress and neck pain, too, because it gets blood flowing into your sore muscles. You may want to add heat or cold to relieve tension and pain.

Talk about your stress. Develop a support system that you can turn to when you are feeling stressed out. Talking about your problems can help reduce stress. You may want to consider joining a formal in-person or online support group.

Seek treatment for serious anxiety. A study published this year in the journal BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders found that psychosocial disorders (those caused by stressful life experiences) are closely associated with chronic neck pain. The study looked at 448 patients with neck pain and found that those patients with depression and anxiety tended to have the highest levels of neck pain, have neck pain longer, and were less likely to be active in their own recovery. If you’re struggling with stress, anxiety, or depression, it’s important to consider professional counseling to treat the underlying problem.

Neck Pain: Get Moving Now

Treatment of neck pain has changed over the years. We now know that in most cases the sooner you get back to full activity the better. Even if your neck still hurts a bit, it doesn’t mean that neck pain is doing harm.

Studies also show that the longer your neck pain lasts, the less chance you will return to full activity. So start managing your stress and develop a positive attitude. The sooner you do, the quicker you will recover from your neck pain.

“You could have multiple trigger points in one muscle, maybe a few inches apart,” says Dr. Leizman. “Muscle often feels denser and tighter at a trigger point — more rope-like. When you push on it, pain spreads throughout the muscle area.”

De-stress your muscle

Trigger point pain is fairly common, Dr. Leizman says. Fortunately, there are some common ways to relieve it, possibly saving you a trip to the doctor.

  • Rub it out. Massage the trigger point and try to loosen up those taught muscle fibers.
  • Soothe the hurt. Anti-inflammatories can help wipe out muscle pain. So can a heating pad or ice pack. Yes, either temperature variation may work.
  • Find the root. Try to identify what’s “stressing out” your muscle. Then correct it so the knot in your muscle can “unwind.” Maybe it’s poor posture or an awkward workspace or falling asleep in the lounge chair. “Repetitive strain can make muscle fibers seize up,” says Dr. Leizman. “Even mental stress can cause muscle tension and trigger points.”
  • Get moving. Aerobic exercise is very effective at combating trigger points, says Dr. Leizman. Try jumping jacks, swimming or other arm movements that engage the muscles in your shoulders and neck. “Not only are you stretching the muscles, you’re increasing their blood supply, pumping in good nutrients and filtering out toxins,” says Dr. Leizman.

If these tips don’t relieve your neck, shoulder or back pain, and the pain interferes with your daily activities, it’s time to see a doctor.

“Sometimes physical therapy can help alleviate the trigger point. Sometimes people need a trigger point injection to relax the muscle fibers and stimulate healing,” says Dr. Leizman.

But the best treatment is preventing trigger points. Be aware of good posture and body mechanics. And find healthy ways to alleviate stress.

“Stress is a normal part of life,” says Dr. Leizman. “We all need ways to manage it well, both mentally and physically. Exercise can do that all at once.”

Stiff neck? The area above your shoulders is one that commonly holds tension, especially if you’re sitting at a desk all day (with sub-par posture) or constantly staring down at your phone screen.

According to research, neck pain may feel like a “kink,” stiffness or severe pain. This pain may spread to the shoulders, upper back or arms, or it may trigger headaches and cause numbness, tingling or weakness in your arms.

In general, neck pain refers to pain anywhere from the area at the base of the skull into the shoulders. And technology is one of the major culprits. “As a culture we put our necks through hell with our reliance on technology, which creates forward head carriage, and results in neck muscles that go into spasm and refer pain into our heads, temples, and even behind our eyes,” says Brad Butler, chiropractor and author of “The Blueprint for Back Pain Relief: The Essential Guide to Nonsurgical Solutions.”

“The most common causes of neck pain are either postural or positional. The modern-day life style of sitting at a desk looking over a computer for multiple hours unfortunately leads to a forward head position where the skull moves forward of its placement on the first cervical vertebra,” says Lara Heimann, physical therapist and creator of LYT Style Yoga. “Every millimeter that the skull is off-center places a strain on the posterior neck muscles. These muscles on the back of the neck have a chronic stress and load on them that creates tension and pain.

You may not be able to get away from the computer, but there are things you can do to reduce the strain. “To alleviate this pain, one must first position the computer at eye level to prevent the forward shift of the head,” says Heimann. “Also stretching the back of the neck muscles will help alleviate the tissue tightness present.”

“There are things you can do to assist with the prevention in neck pain,” adds Karen Joubert, PT. “I would recommend a visit to your local physical therapist to address your daily routine, habits and posture. Secondly, a good program of postural awareness along with movement-based stretching will have a positive impact in your further prevention of neck pain.”

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Stretching the neck muscles is one of the simplest at-home (and at-work) prevention techniques to keep tension at bay. This routine can be repeated daily to alleviate neck pain and keep your neck loose throughout the day.

Assisted neck pull

Place your hands on the base of your neck with your elbows pointed out to the sides. Stand up tall and take a deep breath, and then exhale as you drop your chin towards your chest, pulling your elbows down towards the floor. Gently allow the weight of your hands and arms to weigh your head down further, and take a few deep breaths here.

Ear drop

Interlace your fingers behind your back, resting your hands on the small of your lower back and pulling the shoulders down and back. From here, drop your right ear to your right shoulder, and hold for a few breaths. Then switch sides.

Forward fold with head nod

Hinge forward at your hips and bend towards the ground. Hold on to opposite elbows and allow your head to dangle down. Nod your head yes and then shake your head no.

The yes stretch

In an exaggerated nod, say “yes’ with your head. Lift your head up towards the ceiling and look up as high as you can, and then drop your chin down towards your chest as far as you can. Repeat this 10 times.

Neck circles

Use your chin to draw a circle to the right three times and then to the left three times.

More ways to reduce pain and injury

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Want more tips like these? NBC News BETTER is obsessed with finding easier, healthier and smarter ways to live. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Summit Medical Group Web Site

What are neck spasms?

Neck spasms are involuntary contractions of the muscles in your neck. The muscles get tight, hard, and painful.

What is the cause?

Neck spasms may happen from an injury, overuse, poor posture, or stress. For example, it is common for people who do a lot of computer work to get a stiff neck. Spasms may even occur from an uncomfortable night’s sleep.

What are the symptoms?

The muscles in your neck feel hard, tight, and painful. When the muscles that extend from your shoulders to your head go into spasm, the spasms may even cause headaches. You may have tender spots in your neck, sometimes called trigger points, that cause pain in other places.

How are they diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will review your medical history and examine your neck.

How are they treated?

  • Stretching: Spasms are best treated with stretching exercises.
  • Massage: You may be able to massage your neck yourself by finding the tight muscles and putting deep pressure on these muscles. You might also get a massage from a friend or therapist.
  • Medicine: Your healthcare provider may recommend an anti-inflammatory medicine, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, or may prescribe a muscle relaxant. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, do not take for more than 10 days.
  • Ice: Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth on your neck every 3 to 4 hours for up to 20 minutes at a time.
  • Moist heat: Sometimes, especially with recurrent spasms, moist heat can help. Moist heat includes heat patches or moist heating pads that you can purchase at most drugstores, a wet washcloth or towel that has been heated in the dryer, or a hot shower. Don’t use heat if you have swelling.
  • Physical therapy: Your healthcare provider may recommend seeing a physical therapist for an exercise program and other treatments.
  • Injection: If the above treatments do not help, provider may give you a shot of a steroid medicine or an anesthetic into the muscle.
  • Stress management: Neck spasms are a common physical symptom caused by stress or depression. Talk with a counselor, if your neck pain is related to tension caused by emotional problems.
  • Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions. Ask your provider:
    • How long it will take to recover
    • What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
    • How to take care of yourself at home
    • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
  • Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

How long will the effects last?

Pain from neck spasms may last a few days to a few weeks. You need to stop doing the activities that cause pain until your muscle has healed. If you continue doing activities that cause pain, your symptoms will return and it will take longer to recover.

How can I help prevent neck spasms?

Know what you can do about the common causes of neck spasm: overuse, stress, and poor posture. For example, use good posture when you work at a computer, take frequent breaks, and stretch your neck muscles.

When you first feel tightness or pain in your neck, start the treatment that has helped you the most. Treating early, mild symptoms right away can often stop the symptoms from becoming worse.

What Causes Neck Spasms?

Neck spasms are commonly accompanied by muscle tightness, pain that ranges between achy or sharp, and/or neck stiffness. While most neck spasms go away on their own, sometimes they linger and the underlying cause must be diagnosed and treated.


Neck spasms are a common symptom of sprains or strains in the neck muscles.
Read Neck Strain: Causes and Remedies

Potential Neck Spasm Causes

The underlying cause of a neck spasm may be:

  1. Neck strain or sprain. A small tear or strain in a neck muscle can cause it to tighten and/or spasm as a protective mechanism against stretching too far. An injury or sprain to a nearby ligament may cause a reflex muscle spasm where the non-injured muscle tightens in order to protect the nearby injured ligament.

    See Neck Strain Symptoms

  2. Overexertion or fatigue. When a muscle is overworked, it is at increased risk for developing pain and going into spasm. Some evidence suggests that muscles worked in high-temperature environments are also at an increased risk for muscle spasms.1
  3. Herniated disc. If an intervertebral disc herniates in the cervical spine and starts leaking inflammatory proteins, nearby muscles in the neck can become inflamed and painful, causing them to spasm.

    See Cervical Herniated Disc Symptoms and Treatment Options


  1. Facet joint osteoarthritis. When the facet joint’s protective cartilage starts wearing away, the adjacent vertebrae start grinding against each other. Bone spurs (osteophytes) can grow in an attempt to stabilize the joint, which increases inflammation and the risk for nerve compression, both of which may contribute to neck spasms.

    See Cervical Osteoarthritis (Neck Arthritis)

  2. Mechanical dysfunction. Any type of mechanical dysfunction that prevents the joint from going through its normal range of motion can increase the likelihood for muscle spasms. This type of joint dysfunction can have many causes, such as bone spurs, injury, poor posture, or congenital abnormalities from birth.
  3. Peripheral neuropathy. Nerves that branch outside of the spinal canal and feed into the various parts of the body are called peripheral nerves. If a peripheral nerve in the neck becomes damaged—such as from disease or a lesion—it may malfunction by sending too many signals, altered signals, or fewer/no signals. Peripheral neuropathy can potentially lead to various problems with sensory, reflex, and motor functions, including muscle spasms.2

    See Understanding Neuropathy Symptoms

In This Article:

  • Understanding Neck Spasms
  • What Causes Neck Spasms?
  • Neck Strains and Sprains Video
  1. Myofascial pain syndrome. This chronic condition occurs when painful trigger points develop within the muscles and/or their connective tissues (fascia). When this condition occurs, muscles in or near the neck are commonly affected. The muscles can become tight and spasm, and pain may increase and spread up into the head or further down the shoulder, arm, and/or upper back when a trigger point in the neck is touched.

    Watch: Myofascial Pain Syndrome Video

  2. Stress or anxiety. The physiological effects of emotional stress and anxiety have been linked to neck muscle tension and pain, which can also include spasms.
  3. Cervical dystonia. This rare and painful disorder, also called spasmodic torticollis, involves the neck involuntarily rotating to the side and/or tilting. It can occur at any age but is more likely to develop after age 40.3 The cause of cervical dystonia is not fully understood, but there may be a genetic component as it tends to run in families. Other causes have also been suspected, such as a brain injury.


Other causes of a neck spasm are possible. Sometimes the cause of a neck spasm is not known, in which case it is considered an idiopathic muscle spasm.

See All About Neck Pain

If a neck spasm keeps recurring or causes enough pain or stiffness to interfere with daily activities, it is advised to visit a doctor for further evaluation.

See Diagnosing Neck Pain

The 7 faces of neck pain

If you’re bothered by neck pain, you have plenty of company. Doctors estimate that seven out of 10 people will be troubled by such pain at some point in their lives. But if you were to ask each of these people to describe their neck pain, you would probably get seven different stories.

By clearly describing your specific neck symptom, or combination of symptoms, you can help your doctor determine what’s wrong and how to help.

Here are the most common types of neck pain.

  1. Muscle pain. Aching or sore neck and shoulder muscles may occur in response to overexertion or prolonged physical or emotional stress. The neck muscles may develop hard knots that are tender to the touch, sometimes called trigger points.
  2. Muscle spasm. This is a sudden, powerful tightening of neck muscles. Your neck may hurt and feel tight or knotted, and it may be impossible to turn your head. When you wake up with a painful, stiff neck, that’s likely a muscle spasm. Muscle spasm can result from a muscle injury, but it may also occur in response to a spinal disc or nerve problem, or even emotional stress. However, there is often no clear cause.
  3. Headache. Neck-related headache is most often felt in the back of the head and upper neck and is usually the result of muscle tension or spasm. Neck-related headache pain is usually dull or aching, rather than sharp; the neck might also feel stiff or tender. Moving your neck makes it worse.
  4. Facet joint pain. Often described as deep, sharp, or aching, pain in the facet joints (part of the vertebrae of the neck) typically worsens if you lean your head toward the affected side, and may radiate to your shoulder or upper back. Arthritis in the facet joints, as in other locations, may feel worse in the morning or after a period of inactivity.
  5. Nerve pain. Irritation or pinching of the roots of the spinal nerves causes pain that may be sharp, fleeting, severe, or accompanied by pins and needles. Depending on the nerve involved, the pain may shoot down the arm or even into the hand.
  6. Referred pain. Referred pain is pain in one part of the body that is triggered by a problem in another part of the body. For example, neck pain that worsens with exertion may indicate a heart problem, while neck pain that occurs when you eat may stem from a problem in the esophagus.
  7. Bone pain. Pain and tenderness in the cervical vertebrae are far less common than neck pain from the soft tissues. Bone pain needs medical attention because it may signal a more serious health problem.

There are many things you and your doctor can do to manage and relieve your pain, including a combination of self-help techniques and over-the-counter pain medications.

For more information on beating neck pain and getting back to the activities you love, buy Neck Pain, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

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Stay alert for those habits that put your muscles at risk. If you always carry a heavy purse or briefcase on a shoulder strap and cannot bear to leave anything at home, it helps to support the strap with a hand at the shoulder. Better yet, switch the bag from shoulder to shoulder. Best: a backpack.

Ideally, you should head off the buildup of tension with a regular exercise routine you can do as a break during the working day. Here is a simple program you can do at your desk. Some of these may make you feel foolish, but they are often the ones that bring the greatest relief, since movement and stretching are balm for tense muscles. rrNeck Ovals:

The old standby, the neck roll, but modified so the largest arc is from shoulder to shoulder. Bend your neck over toward the left shoulder, then rotate down so your chin is on your chest. Continue over toward the right shoulder. Do not bend your head back too far -too extreme a bend can tense the muscles that have to support it in that awkward position. Do two or three rolls in one direction. Reverse and do them the other way. The Clock Stretch: This stretch rotates your neck in a different way than the neck roll. Imagine you are facing the hands of a huge clock. Turn your head to look toward your left shoulder, where 9 o’clock would be. Then to the right, toward 3 o’clock, up to 12, and down to 6 o’clock. It is best if you look straight ahead between each of the positions. Shoulder Shrugs: Hunch your shoulders up toward your ears, then rotate them forward, down, back and up toward your ears again. Do this a few times in both directions. Apple Picker: As though you were plucking apples from a tree, reach up with your right arm, then your left, stretching as far as you comfortably can while sitting in your chair. Go back and forth several times, stretching each side to its fullest. Backward Stretch: You have to stand up for this one. Reach behind you, touching palms behind your back. With your arms outstretched behind you, bring your chin to your chest. Then, in turn, bring each ear down toward your chest. Massage: Reach over your shoulder to the muscle just above your shoulder blade and toward the spine. With firm but gentle circular strokes, use your fingertips to massage the muscle, paying special attention to any tenderness or knots that you feel.

In doing these exercises, only move as far as is comfortable for you. If you feel pain, or any other unpleasant sensation, you are moving too far. Once you master this routine, it should only take about four or five minutes. If you find it embarrassing to exercise at your desk, you might try to find a time and place to do it in greater privacy.

There are some less-obtrusive methods for preventing muscle pain in the tension triangle. Some of these are mental. One trick is to imagine that a balloon is floating above your head, attached to the top by a string. Feel the light tug of the balloon lengthening your spine.

Another effective measure is to take a moment or two to scan the muscles that are most prone to tension. Simply become aware of the tension in each part of your body: shoulders, neck, jaw. When you find the tension is building in a group of muscles, relax it mentally without actively trying to move a muscle – just let it relax.

Once relaxed, you are in better shape to cope with that deadline and your boss.

Easy tips to relieve stress-related neck and back pain

Data published on suggest that adults know stress affects their spines. Online survey participants ranked the No. 1 perceived cause of their neck and back pain as follows:

  • Stress: 29 percent
  • Not enough exercise/weak muscles: 26 percent
  • Physical work: 26 percent
  • Overweight: 25 percent
  • Spinal disc herniation: 21 percent
  • Sitting at a desk at work: 20 percent

However, a certain level of stress is ever-present for most adults. While it’s unrealistic to suggest eliminating all stress from life, we can take incremental steps to reduce stress and alleviate neck and back pain symptoms at home and at work.

Neck pain and stress

Given its proximity to the head, tension in the neck due to stress can cause muscle pain and headaches. Chronic neck pain also can cause fatigue, depression, and irritability.

Also, when your posture is poor, such as straining to look at a computer or mobile device or hunching over your desk, undue strain occurs in the neck muscles.

Back pain and stress

We typically talk about back pain as mid-back and low-back pain. Over time, both affect your posture and the way you walk, which can lead to pain in the hips, knees, and feet.

Mid-back pain includes muscles that are affected by breathing, including the chest and shoulder muscles. When you’re stressed, your breathing patterns change and cause strain and tension in the mid-back. Your shoulders hunch up and cause pain throughout the upper and middle back.

Low-back pain includes the tailbone and lower half of the back muscles. These muscles affect flexibility and posture. Many people become more sedentary during periods of stress, which means they stretch and exercise less. For example, sitting at your desk for several hours a day when you’re swamped at work can strain the spine and low-back muscles.

Related reading: Back in action: Updated treatment recommendations for lower-back pain

Along with stress, common causes of spine pain include obesity, poor workstation ergonomics, and lack of exercise. However, we believe that all aspects of a patient’s health should be considered as parts of a whole rather than individual ailments. Patients with back pain are treated at UT Southwestern’s Spine Center by a multidisciplinary team that includes a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician, a pain management expert, a neurosurgeon, and an orthopedic spine surgeon. We work closely with ergonomics-certified physical therapists to help you achieve and maintain healthy posture and movement habits at work and at home.

Neck Pain and Headaches from Stress

Stress is nothing more than our reaction to a provocation that upsets our physical and/or mental equilibrium. Therefore, stress is an inevitable part of life. Nevertheless, when we are faced with stress, our “fight or flight” response can be triggered; this causes the production of hormones including adrenaline and cortisol to increase and rush through your body.

About Your Neck Pain and Headaches

Simultaneously, muscles in our neck and scalp may contract. These muscle contractions occur when we are faced with stress, anxiety, or depression. When these muscles contract they often cause dull, nagging headaches that often turn into full-blown migraine headaches.

Robert Gotlin, DO, director of Orthopaedics and Sports Rehabilitation at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City says this about neck pain,

“As stress goes up I definitely see more patients with neck pain. Every year around tax time, the number of patients with neck pain increases, especially among Wall Street types here in New York.”

Another cause of neck pain is structural and results from a neck joint issue. This type of a headache is known as a neck headache or more properly as a Cervicogenic headache. Research shows that fixing the neck can end a headache. The joints usually associated in a neck headache are:

  • Atlanto-occipital joint (O-C1)
  • Atlanto-axial joint (C1/2)
  • C2/3 cervical spine joints

When your neck joints are too tight, a headache can result in just a few minutes. Not all stress is bad, however. Stress within your comfort level helps you to perform under pressure, keep you motivated and to keep you safe when danger is evident.

How Many Types of Headaches Are There?

Headaches come in many sizes and pain levels, however, there are four distinct types of a headaches:

  1. Tension
  2. Sinus
  3. A migraine
  4. Cluster

Tension headaches are the most common of all headaches and can occur simply from holding your head in one position for too long. Some of the activities that can lead to a tension headache from this source are:

  • Staring at a computer screen
  • Working with a microscope
  • Fine work with one’s hands

Other causes of tension headaches include:

  1. Physical or emotional stress
  2. Caffeine (too little or too much)
  3. Sinus infections from a cold or the Flu
  4. Alcohol consumption
  5. Eye strain
  6. Fatigue
  7. Tobacco use

Serious debilitating headaches are a warning that you should seek medical attention; tension headaches, however, are most often just a nagging annoyance, though some can be painful enough to disrupt your daily activities.

How Do I Deal with a Tension Headache?

Since tension headaches are the most common of all headaches, here are three tips on how to deal with tension headaches.

Relax – Tension headaches are called this for a reason; relaxation and stress relief can help alleviate your headache. While stress is an undeniable part of life, an overabundance of stress can lead to more serious diseases such as high blood pressure or heart disorders. Activities that strain your neck and back should be curtailed and stretching breaks should be a regular part of your work day.

Fix Your Workplace Ergonomics – A headset for your telephone, proper monitor positioning for your computer, a desktop riser that lets you work while standing. In addition, make sure your eyeglasses and contacts prescription are current.

Stretch Your Muscles – Stretching is a great way to release tense muscles in the neck. Try stretching with a general exercise program designed by a trainer or physical therapist that is specific to your needs.

Headaches can be inconvenient and painful. Talk with your physical therapist today to see if your headaches are stemming from neck pain or stress and learn how to treat them effectively!


Neck Pain and Tension Headache

Tension headache, also called tension-type headache, commonly causes mild to moderate constricting or tightening pain in the forehead and temple area, with tenderness in the scalp and neck muscles. Tension headache is caused due to muscle contractions in the face, scalp, and neck as a response to stress, strain, fatigue, or other factors.


Tension headache is a common headache characterized by moderate to severe non-throbbing pain in the forehead, scalp, and neck. Tension headache occurs when muscles of the scalp and neck become tense, such as from tension, stress, fear, and/or emotions.

How Neck Pain May Feel With Tension Headache

Neck pain that may accompany a tension headache typically feels achy, tender, and/or tight. In cases where neck pain started before the tension headache, such as from trauma or a chronic neck condition, the neck pain may feel more intense, such as sharp or burning. Sensitivity of the trapezius muscle in the upper neck is common in tension headache, along with stiffness of the neck and scalp muscles.

See All About Neck Pain


Types of Tension-Type Headache

There are 3 types of tension headache depending on frequency 1:

  • Infrequent episodic tension headache: Lasts less than 12 days per year
  • Frequent episodic tension headache: Lasts more than 12 days and less than 180 days per year
  • Chronic tension headache: Lasts more than 180 days per year

While infrequent episodic tension headache is usually self-managed, frequent episodic and chronic tension headache can cause high disability and prompt medical consultation.

In This Article:

  • What Is Causing My Neck Pain and Headache?
  • How Neck Pain and Headache Can Occur Together
  • Neck Pain and Cervicogenic Headache
  • Neck Pain and Tension Headache
  • Neck Pain and Migraine Headache

Symptoms of Tension-Type Headache

Common symptoms of tension headache include:

  • Constricting or pressing feeling around the head such as wearing a tight hat or tight band or carrying a heavy weight on the head is common in tension headache. The pain is mild to moderate in intensity but may be severe in some cases.
  • Neck pain and trigger points are usually present in the neck, shoulder, and face muscles that induce pain upon manual pressure.
  • Increased sensitivity to light or sound—any one symptom may be present
  • Pain does not worsen with routine physical activity in tension headache.

See Neck Pain Symptoms

Lower pain threshold and higher sensitivity to pressure and pain is a common characteristic of people with tension headache. This phenomenon causes stress and tension to easily induce neck pain and headache.

Comparison of Tension Headache With Similar Headaches

A few examples of differentiating factors of tension headache from other headaches are:

  • Symptoms of tension headache such as neck pain and tenderness in the head and neck regions are also seen in migraine headache or cervicogenic headache. However, the pain in tension headache has a constricting nature and usually does not worsen with physical activity.
  • The pain in tension headache is always triggered by stress; unlike food, smell, hormones, or postures known to trigger other headaches.

A condition called mixed tension-migraine is a headache with characteristics of both tension headache and migraine headache. The migraine headache is believed to occur first, causing muscular tension that leads to tension headache.

There are no diagnostic tests to confirm tension headache. Diagnosis is based on physical examination and medical history including type, location, and characteristics of pain. Diagnostic tests are conducted when a possibility of tumor, infection, or nerve disorder is suspected.

See Diagnosing Neck Pain


Treatment of Tension Headache

Both pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments are useful in providing relief from tension headache. A few examples of common treatment methods for tension headaches are:

  • Pain-relieving medications. Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen are commonly available over-the-counter (OTC) and provide relief from tension headache pain. Combining two or more drugs such as aspirin and/or acetaminophen with caffeine into one drug for some people may have better efficacy than single drug medications. Prescription drugs such as ketoprofen and higher strength naproxen may be used to treat severe tension headache.
  • See Medications for Back Pain and Neck Pain

  • Preventive medications. Tricyclic antidepressants, antiepileptic drugs, and muscle relaxants may be used to prevent frequent episodic or chronic tension headache.
  • Alternate treatments. Therapies such as relaxation, biofeedback, and stress management may be helpful in relieving stress and tension while also providing pain relief. Some studies suggest a combination of anti-depressant medications and stress management therapy have improved outcomes in treating chronic tension headache.2
  • Dietary changes. Limiting or avoiding alcohol and caffeine may help reduce the occurrence of tension headaches in some people.

See Headache Treatment and Prevention on

Prescription or OTC medications taken on a continual basis must be monitored by a doctor and dosages must be followed correctly to prevent side effects. Overuse of pain-relief medication can result in medication-overuse headaches in headache-prone people and can also reduce the effectiveness of preventive drugs.

  • 1.Chowdhury, D. Tension type headache. Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology (2012), 15(5), 83.
  • 2.Holroyd KA, O’Donnell FJ, Stensland M, Lipchik GL, Cordingley GE, Carlson BW. Management of Chronic Tension-Type Headache With Tricyclic Antidepressant Medication, Stress Management Therapy, and Their CombinationA Randomized Controlled Trial. JAMA. 2001;285(17):2208–2215.

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What about X-rays, CT-scans and MRI?

Unfortunately X-rays, CT-scans and MRI’s are not diagnostic of a neck headache. You can suffer a neck headache with or without some abnormal findings on X-rays or scans. Likewise, scan abnormalities do not guarantee that you will experience a neck headache.

However, X-rays and scans may identify structures that could potentially be causing your neck pain or a neck headache. We recommend that you have at least cervical spine X-rays if you have been suffering headaches or head pain for an extended period.

How Can Physiotherapy Help You?

Quality neck physiotherapy can have a very quick and effective result for relieving your neck headache. The key to a better treatment response is confirming your diagnosis. PhysioWorks physiotherapists are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of a neck headache. After you have been assessed your physio will start you on treatment that fixes YOUR problems.

Your neck headache treatment may include all or some of the following techniques:

  • Stiff neck joints may need to be loosened or unlocked via joint mobilisation (gentle gliding techniques), joint traction or in specific cases a gentle and localised joint manipulation technique.
  • Hypermobile (or dynamically unstable) joints may require specific deep neck muscle strengthening exercises to stabilise, control and limit the joint movement available.
  • Tight or overactive muscles may require stretching, massage, acupuncture, dry needling, or other relaxation techniques.
  • Weak muscles may require specific strengthening exercises. This may include your postural shoulder blade and neck muscles.
  • Nerve dysfunction may be addressed by your physiotherapist depending upon your specific examination findings. Neurosensitivity is a common finding that needs to addressed with cautious professional care and attention.
  • Posture correction may be recommended via specific exercises, posture awareness techniques, taping or a posture brace.
  • Helpful advice on how to prevent neck dysfunction in the future eg awkward neck positions and postures to avoid.

What Results Should You Expect?

Relief of your neck headache is quite often immediate!

If your headache is solely caused by a neck headache, it is common to experience instant relief as you walk out of the clinic.

Depending on the severity and what are the specific underlying causes of your neck headaches, most sufferers will resolve their neck headache within days or a few weeks. In addition to relieving your neck headaches, it is the aim of your physiotherapist to address the reasons why you are experiencing neck headaches.

After all, helping you to avoid future neck headache is a very important component of your rehabilitation.

What if Physiotherapy Can’t Help You?

Since there are over 300 sources of a headache, and neck headache is thought to be responsible for about 20% of headaches, your headache may stem from a problem that neck headache treatment is not able to help relieve.

You may also be suffering from a mixed or a multi-source headache. In these instances, your neck headache may be solved but another source of your head pain could linger.

Your physiotherapist will advise you if you have symptoms that could indicate a different cause for your headache. In these instances, they will also direct you towards further investigations or tests that may assist your diagnosis and subsequent treatment.

Mixed Headache-Migraine Types

You can simultaneously suffer one, two or more types of a headache or a migraine.

One type may cause another or overlap with another. For example, a painful neck can cause an increase in muscular tension, which will increase your blood pressure. In this scenario, you would be suffering a neck headache + a tension headache + a migraine!

In our experience, finding the primary source of your headache or a migraine is the key to successful management.

What Else Could Be Causing Your Headaches or a Migraine?

Your physiotherapist and doctor will be able to assist your diagnosis and headache source. Sometimes specific tests can confirm your diagnosis. On other occasions, it can be by a process of elimination.

In a small percentage of patients, there is, unfortunately, a sinister cause of your head pain, which should be thoroughly investigated. These can include brain tumours, aneurysm, meningitis and other systemic illnesses.

Your physiotherapist or doctor may recommend that you complete a headache or migraine questionnaire that will assist in your headache classification, diagnosis and treatment. Once you complete these questionnaires please present the results to your physiotherapist or doctor to assist your diagnosis and treatment.

Headaches or Migraine Questionnaire

At PhysioWorks, we have a special interest in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of a neck headache, stress headache and jaw headache.

For more information, please ask your physiotherapist.

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Headache – Migraine

Common Causes

General Information

  • Migraine vs Headache

Specific Migraine – Headache Types

  • Neck Headache
  • Tension Headache
  • Cluster Headaches
  • Migraine

Migraine – Headache Questionnaires

  • Free Online Migraine-Headache Quizzes

Neck Conditions

  • Neck Pain
  • Bulging Disc
  • Wry Neck
  • Text Neck
  • Whiplash
  • Pinched Nerve
  • Cervical Radiculopathy
  • Facet Joint Syndrome
  • Neck Sprain
  • Spondylosis
  • Spondylolysis
  • Spondylolisthesis
  • Scoliosis

Jaw Conditions

  • TMJ Dysfunction

Systemic Conditions

  • Fibromyalgia
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Ankylosing Spondylitis

Headache Red Flags!

If suffer any of the following symptoms, please notify your physiotherapist or doctor as soon as possible.

All Red Flags MUST be thoroughly investigated!

We urge you to check with your doctor or physiotherapist to investigate further if your headaches have any of the following characteristics:

  • A sudden or a severe headache – a “thunderclap” type headache.
  • A new or “different” headache to your normal type.
  • Your “worst headache ever”!
  • Signs of neurological complications e.g. motor weakness, memory loss, confusion, behaviour changes, reduced alertness or meningismus (stiff neck + photophobia + a headache).
  • New headache onset over the age of 40 to 50 years.
  • Headaches at night or waking in the morning.
  • A headache associated with systemic symptoms e.g. weight loss, fever, nausea or vomiting.
  • The onset of a headache after a cough or sneeze, exercise, coitus or head turning.
  • New onset of a headache during or following pregnancy.
  • A previous history of cancer.

If you have any of the above Red Flags symptoms, we strongly recommend that you inform your physiotherapist and seek the advice of your doctor or an emergency department immediately.

Can an Unsupportive Pillow Cause Neck Headaches?

Yes. Unfortunately, a non-supportive pillow or one not suited to your neck can predispose you to neck pain or a neck headache.

If you suffer neck pain or a headache, it is wise to ask for the professional advice of your physiotherapist regarding what pillow style and size they would recommend for you.

Pillows do vary and the best one for your neck shape and body size will help you prevent neck pain and neck headache.

More info: Best Pillows

Headaches and Migraine Questionnaires

Discover what is causing your Headache or Migraine…

  • Free Online Diagnostic Headache & Migraine Questionnaires

Helpful Products for Headaches & Migraine

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Common Neck Headache Treatments

  • Early Injury Treatment
  • Avoid the HARM Factors
  • What to do after a Muscle Strain or Ligament Sprain?
  • Acupuncture and Dry Needling
  • Sub-Acute Soft Tissue Injury Treatment
  • Scapular Stabilisation Exercises
  • Closed Kinetic Chain Exercises
  • Biomechanical Analysis
  • Proprioception & Balance Exercises
  • Medications?
  • Ergonomics
  • Posture Correction
  • Soft Tissue Massage
  • Brace or Support
  • Deep Neck Stabilisation Exercises
  • Dry Needling
  • Electrotherapy & Local Modalities
  • Heat Packs
  • Joint Mobilisation Techniques
  • Kinesiology Tape
  • Neurodynamics
  • Physiotherapy Instrument Mobilisation (PIM)
  • Prehabilitation
  • Strength Exercises
  • Stretching Exercises
  • Supportive Taping & Strapping
  • TENS Machine
  • Video Analysis
  • Yoga
  • Call PhysioWorks

    Book Online

    Headaches & Migraine FAQ’s

  • Common Physiotherapy Treatment Techniques
  • What is Pain?
  • Can Kinesiology Taping Reduce Your Swelling and Bruising?
  • Headache or Migraine… What to do?
  • Heat Packs. Why Does Heat Feel So Good?
  • How Can You Relieve Your Neck Pain?
  • How to Achieve the Best Standing Posture
  • Migraine? Free Online Test
  • Neck Headache? Free Online Test
  • Tension-Type Headache? Free Online Test
  • What are the Benefits of a Standing Desk?
  • What are the Common Adolescent Spinal Injuries?
  • What are the Common Massage Therapy Techniques?
  • What are the Early Warning Signs of an Injury?
  • What are the Healthiest Sleeping Postures?
  • What are the Signs of an Unsupportive Pillow?
  • What Can You Do To Help Arthritis?
  • What is a TENS Machine?
  • What is Chronic Pain?
  • What is Good Standing Posture?
  • What is Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy?
  • What is Nerve Pain?
  • What is the Correct Way to Sit?
  • What to expect when you visit PhysioWorks?
  • What’s the Benefit of Stretching Exercises?
  • Why Kinesiology Tape Helps Reduce Swelling and Bruising Quicker
    • Migraine vs Headache
    • Neck Headache
    • Tension Headache
    • Cluster Headaches
    • Migraine
    • Free Online Migraine-Headache Quizzes
    • Neck Pain
    • Bulging Disc
    • Wry Neck
    • Text Neck
    • Whiplash
    • Pinched Nerve
    • Cervical Radiculopathy
    • Facet Joint Syndrome
    • Neck Sprain
    • Spondylosis
    • Spondylolysis
    • Spondylolisthesis
    • Scoliosis
    • TMJ Dysfunction
    • Fibromyalgia
    • Rheumatoid Arthritis
    • Ankylosing Spondylitis

    Call PhysioWorks

    Book Online

    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.

    How to Relieve Neck Pain Caused by Stress

    Stress. Anxiety. Low moral support. All of these and other psychosocial factors have been linked as potential causes of neck pain.1,2 When tension and stress build in the neck, muscles may feel tight or achy. Neck pain may also spread to the shoulder or be accompanied by a headache. Let’s explore some ways to reduce this type of neck pain.

    See Stress-Related Back Pain


    If stress-induced neck pain does not subside after a week or two of self-care, see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment. See Treatment for Neck Pain

    7 tips to tackle stress-related neck pain

    By focusing on ways to treat both the mind and the body, you can help lessen stress and the toll it can take on you. Try these methods to manage stress-related neck pain:

    1. Neck stretches
      If done regularly, stretching exercises for the neck can loosen muscle tightness and maintain or expand range of motion for the neck. Try these 2 stretches to get started.
    2. See Neck Stretches

    3. Therapy or support group
      Cognitive behavioral therapy has proven benefits for helping to develop healthy thought patterns, but even a support group or online forum where you can share your concerns and receive support can help you manage day-to-day stressors.

      Visit our active Forums to find online support.

    4. Meditation
      Practicing meditation is a good way to calm your thoughts and anxieties. Look for a guided meditation video on YouTube or attend a class to learn how.

      See Healing Benefits of Yoga

    5. advertisement

    6. Enlisting help from family and friends
      You don’t have to tackle stress alone; let your family and friends help carry the load. Be clear about ways they can help you—ask if a friend can run an errand for you, or assign your children extra chores around the house during stressful periods.
    7. Massage
      Massage is not only relaxing and stress-relieving overall, but it can specifically ease the tightness of the muscles of the neck and shoulders.

      See Massage Chairs for Pain Relief

    8. Exercise
      Exercise is good for your body and mind. It releases endorphins, a hormone that dulls pain and generates feelings of well-being.

      See Low-Impact Aerobic Exercise

    9. Prioritizing
      You’re not a superhero—let inconsequential things go if they’re taking a toll on your health. Focus on what’s most important and don’t worry if things further down the priority list get delayed or left undone for a while.

    If your stress-induced neck pain is not relieved by a week or two of self-care, see your doctor. He or she can offer other treatment option and diagnose possible underlying conditions.

    Learn more

    Stiff Neck Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

    9 Lesser-Known Tips for Easing Neck Pain

    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.


    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


    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.


    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.


    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.


    Anxiety and Neck Pain: Causes and Solutions

    Stress causes many different issues to the body, and each person experiences stress differently. When you suffer from anxiety, you constantly put your body through long-term stress, which can have both immediate and long lasting effects. When your body is in “fight or flight” mode, it generally means it is releasing stress hormones (especially adrenaline and cortisol) that can create muscle tension and an overall feeling of unpleasantness. This only adds to your existing stress and/or anxiety.

    Neck pain is one of the most common physical symptoms of persistent anxiety. It does not occur in everyone, but a significant portion of sufferers experience some degree of neck pain that can range from slightly irritating to severe.

    Anxiety Increases Neck Pain Risk

    Several factors can increase your likelihood of neck pain. If your neck pain is severe or impeding your way of life, it is advised that you visit your primary care provider. Other issues such as whiplash, a herniated disk, arthritis, etc. can all present as neck pain but require medical intervention. As always, if your pain is sudden and extreme, seek medical treatment as soon as possible to decrease the chance of further damage.

    What Causes Anxiety Neck Pain?

    The main cause of neck pain appears to be tension. During extremely anxious moments, your muscles contract and tense up significantly. Whenever you hear of individuals needing to get back or neck massages for “knots” in their muscles, it is often due to stress-induced muscle tension. This muscle tension especially targets the neck, shoulders, and back. The more anxiety you undergo, the more your tension may cause significant pain and discomfort.

    Mindset means everything, especially in anxiety sufferers. Many people get muscle tension in their neck even if they do not have anxiety; however, those with anxiety tend to be more prone to noticing and focusing on it. Unfortunately, anxiety can cause people to fixate more on negative sensations unintentionally. This can make the neck pain feel more severe than it would to someone without anxiety, despite the pain being similar objectively.

    General Neck Pain and Anxiety

    For similar reasons, those with anxiety may be more prone to having greater degrees of neck discomfort than those without anxiety. Mild to moderate neck pain is common without having any health problems; it can be the result of sitting in chairs all day, sleeping in uncomfortable positions, looking down too long (especially on cell phones), not stretching, etc.

    If you do not have anxiety, you might pass this off as a normal ache or pain that commonly occurs to everyone. However, if you have anxiety you might be more sensitive to physical sensations and unable to focus on anything else. Those of you who have panic attacks can have more heightened discomfort. The degree of mental energy you place on your neck may increase the pain and possibly worsen anxiety.

    Neck Discomfort and Panic Attacks

    Those with panic disorder can have feelings of neck tension they believe to be pain, but may actually just be discomfort leading to worse feelings. For example, anxiety sufferers may perceive that they have trouble holding up their head, almost as if their neck is weak.

    It is not clear why anxiety causes this problem, but it is quite common to those with panic attacks. As advised, if your pain and/or discomfort is moderate or severe and stopping you from performing your daily activities, please visit your primary care provider.

    How to Control Neck Pain From Anxiety

    Generally, when anxiety causes neck pain through muscle tension, the best thing to do is to control the muscle tension first and anxiety second. Most anxiety symptoms require you to respond to the anxiety directly in order for the symptoms to go away, but muscle tension has a tendency to linger. This means that additional treatments might be needed. Consider the following:

    • Massage – Massage is one of the best ways to reduce neck pain. It can either be a self-massage or one performed by someone else. Either decision you make, massaging out your tense muscles can genuinely assist in reducing muscle discomfort in your body. This will also help in relieving some of the stress that caused the muscle tension to begin with.
    • Hot Bath/Shower – The application of heat is very soothing to tense muscles. A hot bath is ideal; however, a hot shower can still be beneficial if you stand in there long enough to have your muscles warm up. Heat forces muscles to relax, making it harder to hold tension. For some, hot water and/or steam can be soothing for anxiety.
    • Exercise – If it is not too painful, exercise can improve muscle tension symptoms. Jogging and stretching are especially helpful. When you regularly workout your muscles, it will become harder for them to tense up during times of stress.

    These strategies make it possible to reduce some of the effects of muscle tension on your body. You should also make sure you continue to sit with good posture, stretch regularly, and sleep comfortably. Regular pain may feel more severe if you have anxiety; so reducing the likelihood of pain can decrease your chances of muscle tension. But of course, if you do not address your anxiety directly, many of these symptoms will return. Overall, that is why it is best to develop a strategy to properly manage your anxiety.

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