Stress and neck pain are often closely related

Stress and neck pain are often closely related

If you were to take a survey of neck pain sufferers today, you would probably not be surprised to discover that many of them state they also experience a lot of daily stress due in part to lives that are stretched too thin between work, relationships and dealing with financial issues. According to Jhuie Bhatia, “stressed-out people often experience neck, shoulder, and back pain (Bhatia, 2009).” Although researchers do not thoroughly understand the connection between stress and pain, the connection does seem to exist with many medical professionals seeing the results each day when patients relate stories of how pain increases as stress increases. Doctors are aware that the brain plays a significant role in how we perceive pain and many believe that when we are stressed the brain’s ability to filter pain signals can be impacted resulting in an increase in the intensity of the pain experienced while stress is in the picture. Typically the brain would try to minimize the pain signals so we can function but chronic stress can interfere with the brain’s ability to regulate pain according to Steven Stanos, D.O. an assistant professor at Northwestern University Medical School (Bhatia).

The body’s physiological reactions to stress

The relationship between stress and neck pain may not be immediately obvious to the casual observer or to the person experiencing the discomfort or pain. There is an actual physical reaction in the body as a result of high levels of anxiety and stress that appears as hormones being released when the body goes into its “fight or flight” mode. Once these hormones are released a person can tense muscles in the neck and shoulders resulting in neck pain. The neck pain can be experienced in different intensities from a mild irritation to severe neck pain that is debilitating. Many doctors actually view neck pain as a possible symptom of anxiety. This can actually trigger a cycle because when a person experiences neck pain or irritation they tend to tense the muscles even further aggravating the situation and creating more pain. If a person experiences long-term anxiety and chronic stress they have an increased risk for experiencing neck pain. Because neck pain can be the result of other causes such as a herniated disc, arthritis and as a result of trauma and whiplash it is always a good idea to be examined by a medical professional if you are experiencing neck pain instead of immediately chalking it up to anxiety or stress. If all other causes are ruled out then healthcare professionals consider stress as a possible culprit for the neck pain.

Anxiety, panic attacks, and neck pain

Individuals suffering from panic attacks or other panic disorders often complain of neck discomfort or pain as a result of or because of feeling as if their head is weak or they can’t hold their head up properly which of course increases their anxiety which could lead to an increase in neck discomfort or pain. When observing a patient with a panic disorder during an attack it is not uncommon to watch them rubbing the back of their neck in an attempt to ease the pain. Doctors are not sure why this occurs and have noted that when mild, moderate, or severe pain or neck tension is experienced that the level of anxiety seems to increase. This would seem to indicate that there is indeed a connection between anxiety level and the experience of neck discomfort or pain in those suffering from a form of panic disorder such as those experiencing panic attacks.

How you can see if your neck pain is stress related

How often have you experienced stress at the end of a long workday only to realize that you have a pain at the base of the back of your neck? Sometimes we feel our neck and shoulder muscles tense and sometimes what we feel is a pain at the base of the neck that some even refer to as a headache that radiates from the neck up to the back of the head. We have all had those moments when a particularly tough day at the office, with the kids, or while dealing with traffic results in what some call tension neck aches. Most of the time we jump into a hot shower to ease the tense neck muscles and we feel better. Others find relief by jogging or doing other exercise that uses up energy in muscles, which then results in tense neck muscles being able to relax. As the neck muscles relax the discomfort or pain eases. It is this relief that causes us to believe that the discomfort or pain we felt in our neck region was due to stress. This self-diagnosis is probably pretty accurate. It is important to note that when these home remedies fail to relieve the pain or the neck pain lasts for several days without relief that those individuals should seek medical advice.


The relationship between stress and neck pain can be detrimental to our well being so understanding that this relationship exists and learning how to prevent stress from becoming overwhelming or chronic is is key to long term relief.  Learning to recognize the early signs of discomfort or pain and reacting promptly to relax our muscles can help to reduce the discomfort or pain level we experience. This is especially important when dealing with an individual that has difficulty communicating. Realizing that a person with a panic disorder may be at risk for neck discomfort or pain can help by getting relief to them sooner before the symptoms escalate and make the situation worse. The next time you or a loved one experiences neck pain and there have been no obvious trauma or neck injury the culprit may indeed be too much stress. Learning relaxation techniques and other remedies to reduce stress can help to avoid recurring neck pain. Coping better with stress may result in less pain and a sunnier outlook on life.




Bhatia, J. (2009, March 18). Eliminating stress brings

           pain relief. Retrieved from

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