If you are trying to cope with neck pain due to anxiety, you are one of many. Did you know that scientific studies have shown that many people with persistent neck pain suffer from anxiety1? Researchers have also found that the more severe the anxiety, the more severe the neck pain.1 So it stands to reason, and you’ve probably noticed, that when your anxiety is very high, your neck pain increases too.
When you are under emotional stress and anxious, your body quickly kicks into high gear—it summons all of its resources to “battle” what it perceives as a threat. This is called the “fight or flight response”. During this response, your brain communicates with your adrenal glands, telling them to release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones prompt systems in your body to fight against this sudden “crisis” and that includes your musculoskeletal system.2
As part of this response, your muscles tense up and contract.2 This results in anxiety-related neck pain and explains why you’ll notice your neck pain is worse when you are anxious. If your anxiety is very extreme, it’s important to get it under control, because that in turn, will help address your pain in the neck.
To add to the problem, when you are anxious, your sleep can be disrupted and you can be very restless while sleeping or trying to sleep.3 Sleep problems have been linked to neck pain, making it even more important to get to the root of your anxiety.4
How to Relieve Your Neck Pain Due to Anxiety
It is important to see a doctor when you have bad neck pain, in order to prevent it from getting worse or progressing to something more complicated. But there are also alternative therapies to help ease the pain. Complementary alternative medicine (CAM) offers a range of ways to relieve anxiety-related neck pain. In fact, studies show neck pain is one of the top reasons for which CAM therapies are used.6 These forms of CAM bodywork can include:
Yoga—this exercise, breathing, and relaxation technique is considered very effective for reducing anxiety and the neck pain related to it.5
Massage—this form of CAM has been shown to help you relax your muscles and to be very effective at relieving neck pain and anxiety.6,7
Acupuncture—this ancient Chinese medical practice has been shown to provide relief of neck pain and anxiety.7,8
Spinal manipulation—this procedure, which can be performed by both chiropractors, physical therapists and some doctors of osteopathy and has been shown to provide relief of neck pain.
Nutritional and herbal supplements
Certain supplements and herbs also help relieve neck pain due to anxiety-related muscle cramping.9
Magnesium and calcium—magnesium deficiency can lead to muscle cramping, aching, and tightness. Take it along with calcium, as both work together for muscle and nerve relaxation.
B vitamins—can become depleted when you are under stress, resulting in muscle cramps and aches, so it’s a good idea to take a B complex supplement.
Arnica gel—some people find that rubbing arnica gel into the affected area can help relieve muscle pain and tenderness.
The CAM therapies mentioned above can certainly help, but remember, the most important way to get rid of your neck pain is to address it at its source—relief of your anxiety.
- Blozik E, Laptinskaya D, Herrmann-Lingen C, et al. Depression and anxiety as major determinants of neck pain: a cross-sectional study in general practice. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2009;10:13. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2636754/ . Accessed on October 2, 2012.
- The American Institute of Stress. 50 Common Signs and Symptoms of Stress. Available at: http://www.stress.org/stress-effects/ . Accessed on October 2, 2012.
- National Institutes of Health (NIH). Generalized anxiety disorder. Medline Plus. Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000917.htm. Accessed on October 2, 2012.
- Walsh JK, Coulouvrat C, Hajak G, et al. Nighttime insomnia and perceived health in the America Insomnia Survey (AIS). Sleep. 2011 August 1; 34(8): 997–1011. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3138174/. Accessed on October 2, 2012.
- Yogitha B, Nagarathna R, Ebnezar J, et al. Complimentary effect of yogic sound resonance relaxation technique in patients with common neck pain.Int J Yoga. 2010;3:18-25. Available at:http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2952120/. Accessed on October 2, 2012.
- Sherman KJ, Cherkin DC, Hawkes RJ, et al. Randomized trial of therapeutic massage for neck pain.Clin J Pain. 2009;25:233-238. Availble at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2664516/. Acccessed on October 2, 2012.
- Sarris J, Moylan S, Camfield DA, et al. Complementary medicine, exercise, meditation, diet, and lifestyle modification for anxiety disorders: a review of current evidence. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012; 2012: 809653. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3434451/. Accessed on October 1, 2012.
- Furlan AD, Yazdi F, Tsertsvadze A, et al. A systematic review and meta-analysis of efficacy, cost-effectiveness, and safety of selected complementary and alternative medicine for neck and low-back pain. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012; 2012:953139. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3236015/. Accessed on October 2, 2012.
- Balch JF, Stengler M. Anxiety. Prescription for Natural Cures. 2004. John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, NJ. 387-389.