Can Anxiety Cause Neck Pain?

It’s common for people with anxiety to experience physical symptoms like muscle tension, headaches, and stomachaches. But can anxiety also lead to neck pain? The short answer is yes. Here’s a closer look at the connection between anxiety and neck pain.

How Anxiety Causes Muscle Tension

When you feel anxious, your body goes into fight-or-flight mode. This stimulates your sympathetic nervous system and causes physical changes like increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and tense muscles. Experiencing occasional anxiety is normal. But people with chronic anxiety are in this heightened state more frequently.

The muscles in the neck are very prone to tension, especially the trapezius muscle that runs from the neck across the upper back. When you’re stressed, you may hunch your shoulders, clench your jaw, or hold your neck in a rigid position without realizing it. This puts strain on the muscles and leads to pain. The pain then causes more anxiety, setting up a vicious cycle.

Stress and the Nervous System

Stress doesn’t just affect the muscles—it also amplifies signals from your nervous system. In a relaxed state, your nervous system filters out many everyday sensory inputs so you’re not overwhelmed. But anxiety appears to lower this filtering ability.

That’s why people with anxiety often feel an exaggerated response to things like light, sounds, and touch that other people can tune out. The enhanced sensitivity can make ordinary sensations in the neck like muscle tension or joint movement feel much more painful.

Changes in Posture

Another way anxiety contributes to neck pain is by changing posture. People under chronic stress often slouch their shoulders, lean forward, and crane their neck outward. This misaligned posture puts structural strain on the neck’s vertebrae, disks, nerves, and muscles. Bad posture also weakens core support muscles like the rhomboids and trapezius. This makes it harder for the muscles to do their job holding the neck and head in proper alignment.

Over time, poor posture can lead to inflammation, muscle knots, pinched nerves, and decreased mobility in the neck. Moving the neck becomes painful, and the sudden sharp pains of a “crick in the neck” become more common.

Can You Relieve Anxiety-Related Neck Pain?

If anxiety and stress are contributing to your neck pain, getting anxiety under control needs to be part of the solution. Relaxation techniques like deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, and yoga can help calm your mind and relax your neck muscles. Here are some other ways to help relieve neck pain caused by anxiety:

  • Improve posture through exercises that strengthen core and neck muscles. Pilates and the Alexander Technique can help.
  • Try at-home treatments like ice packs, heating pads, Epsom salt soaks, and over-the-counter pain relievers.
  • Get therapeutic massages to relax tight neck muscles.
  • See a chiropractor for neck adjustments if joints are restricted.
  • Try physical therapy exercises to increase neck mobility.
  • Look into acupuncture, which may help relieve muscle tension.
  • Consider seeing a therapist if anxiety is severe. Therapies like CBT can teach coping strategies.

The bottom line is that chronic anxiety negatively impacts your neck. Getting anxiety under control and using both medical and holistic approaches together will provide the most relief for anxiety-related neck pain.