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  • Writer's pictureDr. Ni Li, ND MSc

Neck pain from stress?

Updated: Feb 25, 2023


neck pain from stress

Table of Contents



Can stress cause neck pain?


Yes, stress can cause neck pain. We tend to tense up our neck and shoulder muscles when stressed. It’s our body’s automatic guarding reaction to stress. Often we don’t even realize we are doing that. Feel your neck and shoulder muscles and compare them to your arm and leg muscles. Can you feel the difference? Are they tighter and sore or tender when pressed? These signs tell you that you are carrying your stress in these muscles.


What does neck pain from stress feel like?


You can feel your neck is stiff and rigid. The range of motion of your neck is restricted, which means you can not lower, lift, or turn your head as much as you used to be able to. You feel your neck muscles are so tight and tender that it stops you from moving your head further. It can happen on one side or both sides of your neck, or one side is worse. The severity also ranges from mild to severe enough to impair daily living.


Some people also experience headaches along with neck pain. It can feel like pressure and tightness around your forehead or eyes, dull, aching pain on the sides and back of the head. It can also feel like throbbing pain on one side of your head. Often these headaches build up gradually and can take a few hours to days to develop.


How to relieve neck pain from stress?


Other than stress, common contributors to neck pain include spending long hours on the computer/phone and poor posture. Therefore, we need to tackle them all together.


First, spend time efficiently and take regular breaks.

I used a Pomodoro timer app to break up my long hours of studying into intervals. It helped me to focus when I needed as well as to fit stress reduction and self-care into my busy schedule. Another option is to set alarms on your phone/smartwatch/computer to remind you at least hourly that it’s time to stand up and take a break. During the break, you can look out of a window, take deep breaths and do stretches to relieve neck pain from stress.

neck stretches to relieve neck pain from stress
Neck Stretches to Relieve Neck Pain from Stress (illustrations from Hep2Go.com)

Click here to download detailed instructions on neck stretches at home.


Second, good posture.

If you need to work long on the computer, check out the following tips and adjust your sitting posture accordingly.

  1. Rest your feet flat on the floor or a footrest. Don't cross your legs.

  2. Keep your knees at or slightly below the level of your hips. Leave a small gap between the back of your knees and the seat.

  3. Support your back. Place a small cushion behind your lower back if needed.

  4. Keep your forearms supported and parallel to the ground.

  5. Make sure the top of your monitor is at or slightly below eye level.

  6. Keep your head and neck balanced and in line with your torso.

  7. Relax your shoulders.

Again, take a 5-10 minute break every hour for breathing and stretching exercises to relieve neck pain from stress.


good posture to relieve neck pain from stress
Good Posture to Relieve Neck Pain from Stress

Third, heat therapy and massage.

Both heat and massage can help muscles relax and improve local circulation and tissue healing. Heating pads and massagers are good options for self-care at home. Incorporating them into your daily routine can help you prevent and relieve neck pain from stress. However, you need to see a professional if your neck pain is not improving with self-care or if your health situation is complicated.


Can neck pain be a sign of something serious?


Neck pain alone does not tell us enough information. Usually, some other signs and symptoms happening along with it indicate it can be a sign of something serious. Be aware of the following scenarios in which you need to see a doctor.


Neck pain and neurological symptoms:

  • Neck pain that shoots into the shoulder or down the arm;

  • Neck pain accompanied by numbness, tingling, or weakness in the hand or arm.

Neck pain with “red flags”:

  • Neck pain that gets worse during the night;

  • Neck pain accompanied by difficulty breathing or swallowing;

  • Neck pain accompanied by loss of control over bladder or bowel function;

  • Neck pain caused by a fall, injury, or other trauma;

  • Neck pain accompanied by high fever, severe headache, and confusion.

Left-side neck pain in heart attack:


Left-side neck pain, accompanied by pain or discomfort in the left-side jaw, shoulder, arm, chest or back, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, and cold sweat, can indicate a heart attack. You need to seek medical care immediately in that case. Right-side neck pain is usually due to benign causes such as muscle strain and poor posture. However, if you experience the symptoms mentioned above, you should see a doctor anyway.


Last, make a list and plan!


Make a list of things you can do for self-care to reduce stress and neck pain. Make a plan for it. Remember, you can make a change!

If you need additional guidance and medical services, we are always here to listen and help. Book a discovery call to find out how we can help you further.


Disclaimer: The information on this website is for educational/informational purposes only, and not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Learn more.

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