Let’s face it… we live in a high-pressure, fast-paced world that is jerking us in different directions constantly. Our stress and anxiety levels have skyrocketed compared to what people dealt with only a few years ago.
So, the question is: could your aching neck be due at least in part to this stress? You bet! Stress and anxiety cause the body to prepare for a “flight or fight” response. Think of your caveman relatives that came across the saber tooth tiger. Run for your life or fight… those are the only two options.
HOW THE STRESS RESPONSE WORKS…
When you’re stressed to the max, it causes a mixture of physical and emotional responses that prime your body to run or fight when faced by the modern equivalent of the saber tooth tiger. The brain triggers the release of epinephrine (adrenaline), cortisol and other hormones that prepare your body for action. Physical changes include an increased heart rate, higher blood pressure, rapid breathing, tensed muscles and moving your blood from your gut to the muscles. Specific changes in the body include:
- Enlargement of the blood vessels in large muscle groups to allow faster oxygen delivery
- Clenching of the muscles in the jaw, neck and shoulders
- Tightening of the trapezius muscle that runs across the top of your back
- Neck and shoulder mobility is decreased due to tight muscles
- Pain perception is heightened… making you feel even worse.
This will often cause physical symptoms, such as chest pain, gas pain and bloating, neck muscle pain and tension, jaw pain, shoulder and back pain and headaches. Chronic Stress is also a factor in weight gain and obesity… which long-time readers know leads to chronic inflammation. And the inflammation puts more pressure on the body’s muscles and nerves… causing even more pain.
Your head can weigh up to 15 pounds – so the muscles in the neck are already strained on a regular basis. Just add in some stress and anxiety and you have the perfect recipe for chronic, unending neck pain.
Stress may lead to other ailments including lupus, fibromyalgia and even chronic fatigue syndrome… all of which lead to chronic neck and shoulder pain. Part of the reason is that long-term stress and anxiety lead to the immune system not working as it should.
UNHEALTHY QUICK FIXES – DON’T TRY THEM!
For many of us, our solution to the stress of a long, lousy, stress-filled day is to reach into the liquor cabinet and have a couple shots of your favorite adult beverage. Others may be using drugs such as valium, xanax or marijuana. Smoking seems to calm others down. More solutions include over the counter analgesics and anti-inflammatories.
None of these solutions work. Why? A phenomenon known as the “rebound effect” kicks in. In other words, when your drug of choice starts to wear off, the pain becomes worse than before. This leads to people taking more and more of their medication to get the same effect.
Stressed out people often have poor diets… they have little time to cook healthy food or they don’t have the energy at the end of the day to start putzing with food. If this sounds like you, here’s my advice: try to make simple but healthy dishes at home. Avoid the urge to run through the fast-food drive thru… these foods are loaded with preservatives, unhealthy fats and have many chemical additives. Poor eating habits often lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies – including lack of magnesium (which causes tight, aching muscles) and deficiencies in B vitamins – causing neuropathies including itching, burning and carpal tunnel symptoms.
LONG TERM STRESS CAUSES LASTING DAMAGE…
Unending stress and anxiety leads to chronic muscle tension… which reduces blood flow to the muscles, and puts pressure on the nerves in the neck and brachial plexus. This plexus is a bundle of nerves located about half-way between your neck and shoulder right above your collarbone. The end result is nutrients and oxygen don’t get to the cells making them more likely to be damaged or die. Another problem is long-term muscle tone imbalance… where opposing muscle groups do not work together correctly – such as your biceps and triceps.
TREATMENTS TO TRY
One of the best ways to deal with chronic neck and shoulder pain that’s irritated by stress is to stretch out and relax periodically throughout the day. Here are a few great habits to work into your daily routine:
- Neck stretches: If you’re in a hurry… try this quick stretch: lower your chin to your chest and hold for 15 seconds… let the weight of your head stretch your upper back. Then, drop your head to the right side and hold for 15 seconds – repeat to the left side. Try to do this several times throughout the day. When you have about 20 minutes available at the beginning or end of the day, I have prepared a stretching video for you that can get wonderful results. Please check it out here.
- Progressive relaxation: To use this technique, you mentally focus on individual muscles to tighten and relax them. For example, rest your elbows on your desk and press your face into your hands. This will make your neck tense. Then… release the tension and concentrate on the muscles in your neck… feeling them slowly relax. Try to imagine the muscles relaxing deeply. Next, try this tension-release-relax method in other muscle groups where you have pain. Continue working through all the painful areas until you feel better.
- Meditation: If you calm your mind, sore neck and shoulder muscle groups will relax and ease pain. Just sit quietly with your eyes closed for 5 – 10 minutes and listen to a guided meditation or just concentrate on deep breaths through your diaphragm. This may take some practice but meditating for 20 minutes daily reduces chronic stress and helps you stay relaxed and pain-free during stressful times.
- Keep on moving: This is the opposite of relaxing… aerobic exercises such as jumping jacks or arm circles will work the neck muscles and increase blood flow… this stretches the painful muscles and removes toxins such as lactic acid.
- Gentle massage: One of the best ways to decrease the amount of pain in your neck is to massage the painful area, which relieves muscle strain. A massage therapist can work wonders but self-massage will also help.
- Yoga: whether you join a class or do poses in your PJ’s at home, a few minutes of yoga daily can drastically improve your health and your ability to cope with stress.
- Supplements: magnesium citrate at a dose of 450 mg per day will relieve tight, tense knotted muscles. L-theanine acts like valium to relieve tension and stress… but without feeling groggy or sedated. Use 100 mg – 200 mg when under stress for quick relief.
CONCLUSION: Chronic neck and shoulder pain can definitely be aggravated by stress and anxiety. Long-term continuous stress will not only make the situation worse but can lead to permanent physical damage. Many solutions are available… most are quick and inexpensive. Try not to brush off the stress until it becomes overwhelming… it becomes much more difficult to treat successfully.
PS: If you found this information useful and would like more help, we are offering a FREE “Chronic Neck Pain Survival Guide” Book for a limited time. It has tips, tricks and pain hacks to get fast and permanent relief. Just click here.