Is Your Anxiety Becoming A Literal Pain In The Neck? What Are Your Options?

Posted on: 9 May 2017

Waking up with occasional neck pain -- whether from mild trauma from a car or bicycle accident or something as innocuous as sleeping in an odd position -- can be a fact of life for many adults, and in most cases, this neck pain can resolve itself without additional treatment. However, those living with generalized anxiety disorder may find that their anxiety can become a literal pain in the neck at times, leading to chronic pain, stiffness, and reduction in the range of motion. What are your options when it comes to dealing with chronic neck pain caused by anxiety? Read on to learn more about your treatment and prevention options. 

Why does anxiety cause neck pain?

When you're anxious -- either on a situational or constant basis -- your muscles can involuntarily constrict in response to nerve signals being fired off at random. Often, your neck and upper back may be at the greatest risk of anxiety-induced muscle spasms; when you're feeling anxious, you may unconsciously move your shoulders upward and forward in an attempt to protect your torso. Even if there's no immediate physical danger, these involuntary and unconscious movements are born of billions of years of human evolution, making them difficult to fight.

In other cases, extended periods of high anxiety can elevate your cortisol levels or even increase your body's production of lactic acid, generally the byproduct of vigorous exercise. This can explain why you may wake up feeling as though you've been hit by a truck the morning after an anxiety or panic attack, even without any physical exertion. 

What can you do to minimize neck pain while dealing with anxiety issues? 

If you find that your anxiety issues are preventing you from living life to the fullest, it's best to start treatment there, rather than looking for topical ways to numb your neck pain; managing your anxiety can have an immediately positive impact on both your mental and your physical state. A mild antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication taken under a physician's supervision can go much farther toward treating your neck pain than ibuprofen or other over-the-counter pain relievers. 

However, if you'd like some quicker fixes to improve a stiff or sore neck you fear is anxiety-induced, your best bets are heat and stretches. By applying gentle heat (through a heating pad or even a microwaved rice-filled sock) and slowly stretching and rolling your neck from side to side, you'll be able to meditate on the issues causing your anxiety while working out the strain and tension in your muscles. Adding calming scents like lavender and eucalyptus to your heated sock or heating pad can go even farther to reduce your anxiety and improve your range of motion. 

For more information on treating your neck pain, check out a company like Physical Therapy at ACAC