Can Depression Make Your Neck Hurt?

It’s not uncommon for people with depression to experience physical symptoms in addition to emotional ones. Neck pain is one of the more common physical complaints among those struggling with depression. There are a few reasons why depression and neck pain tend to go hand-in-hand.

Chronic Muscle Tension

When you’re depressed, your muscles tend to be tense more often. You might clench your jaw, furrow your brow, or hunch your shoulders without even realizing it. This chronic muscle tension can lead to pain in the neck and shoulders. People who are depressed often have poor posture, either standing or sitting hunched over, which strains the neck muscles. The tensed muscles can form trigger points, which are irritable knots that cause localized pain. It’s a vicious cycle, because the physical discomfort then further stresses the body and worsens feelings of depression.

Changes In Sleep Patterns

Depression often disrupts normal sleep patterns. Some people with depression struggle to fall asleep, wake up frequently, or wake up earlier than desired. This lack of quality sleep can make neck pain worse. Sleeping in an awkward position can also contribute to neck pain. People with depression tend to toss and turn more at night as they struggle to get comfortable and fall into deep, restful sleep. Waking up with a stiff, sore neck is a common complaint among those with depressive disorders.

Lack Of Exercise

Another factor is that people who are depressed tend to be less physically active. Regular exercise helps keep the muscles supple and releases endorphins that improve mood. In contrast, inactivity causes the muscles to shorten and tighten. Not getting enough exercise is a risk factor for developing neck pain. Even simple stretches and neck exercises can help reduce tension and discomfort. But when you’re depressed, it’s hard to find the motivation to be active.

Poor Posture From Slouching

Depression has a way of weighing you down, both emotionally and physically. Depressed individuals often slouch or slump due to feelings of sadness, fatigue, and hopelessness. Slumping over a desk or sinking into the couch places strain on the neck. Maintaining proper upright posture can actually help elevate mood. But the downward pull of depression makes it harder to stand up straight. Over time, poor posture from slouching can contribute to neck stiffness and soreness.

Increased Perception Of Pain

Depression seems to lower the threshold for perceiving pain. Studies show that people who are depressed tend to rate experimental levels of pain as more intense than non-depressed individuals, even when exposed to the same stimulus. In other words, depression amplifies pain signals. So existing neck pain may be perceived as worse when you’re in a depressive state. The overlap between depression and chronic pain is complex.

The good news is that treating the underlying depression can help alleviate neck pain. Certain antidepressants such as tricyclics also have pain-relieving effects. A combination of medication, therapy, exercise, posture correction, and relaxation techniques can target both the mood disorder and physical symptoms. While depression itself may not directly cause neck problems, improving your overall mental health and outlook can reduce neck pain.