Can Anxiety Cause Neck Pain?

neck pain in young woman

Millions of people experience neck pain on a regular basis. Neck pain can arise from a variety of different issues. Posture can be a major influence, especially for those who work in an office environment. A sedentary lifestyle, in general, may make musculoskeletal pain more likely.

However, there is one serious cause of neck pain that is frequently overlooked: Anxiety.

Neck Tension and Anxiety: A Hidden Combination That Causes Severe Pain

The neck muscles are separated into two main groups: Anterior (front of the neck) and posterior (back of the neck.) The back of the neck is its most muscular area, but all the neck muscles have a role to play when it comes to moving the neck.

Generally, each muscle contributes principally to either up and down or side to side (lateral) movement. With that in mind, anxiety can limit movement in any or all of these directions depending on which muscles are affected by unhealthy tension.

The muscles of the neck have a big job to do – after all, the human head weighs about 15 pounds. If stress and anxiety are added, muscle tension can become even more pronounced. This causes chronic pain centered on particular muscles and nerves.

Anxious muscle pain in the neck can take several forms. Sometimes, the neck muscles could become so strained that painful spasms result. In most cases, however, sufferers experience a dull, nagging ache. This may persist throughout the day and interfere with sleep at night.

Relaxation is One Key to Combating Muscle Pain

When neck pain is caused principally by anxiety, relaxing the muscles is key to reducing that pain. Unfortunately, muscles can be “trained” to tighten up and hold unnecessary tension. Muscles, like the rest of your body, respond to anxious thoughts in ways you might have limited awareness of.

Anxious neck pain can be a self-reinforcing loop: That is, you expect pain, and so, you experience it on a more regular basis. Your neck will actually tense up as a sort of self-defense mechanism – but this merely causes the problem to become noticeable.

Some approaches that can help include:


Massage is an outstanding way to unlock muscles afflicted by long-term patterns of unnecessary tension. When you get a massage, you are relaxing mentally and physically. This helps to restore the natural range of motion associated with a muscle while teaching it how to rest again.


Stretching has profound affects on both the physical and mental aspects of anxiety-related neck pain. No matter if you do simple stretching at your desk or visit a yoga studio, you are encouraging the neck to move in gentle, healthy ways. This counteracts postural habits that “lock in” neck pain.


Moderate exercise has a number of wonderful effects on both the mind and body. You do not have to focus your exercise on developing the neck muscles, although there are many routines that can do this. Simply aim to get 20 minutes of exercise daily.


Structured breathing exercises can facilitate restoration of the natural relationships between muscles, bones, and tendons. Deep breathing has been shown to have effect on heart rate, blood pressure, and much more. At the same time, tense muscles naturally return to a calmer state.

Diet Changes

In particular, it is a good idea to avoid coffee, soda, and other foods with caffeine. Stimulants can make anxiety attacks, and the associated pain, harder to manage.

Anxious muscle tension can sometimes suggest an underlying problem that requires medical care.

For expert help or to find out more about your neck pain, contact ENT Centers of Excellence today to book an appointment.

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