Can Anxiety Cause Neck Pain?

There’s a strong connection between mental stress and neck pain, as well as other kinds of discomfort that most people experience occasionally. If you’re under stress at work, home, or school, you can feel nearly debilitated by the tension and pain in your neck and shoulders. A leading cause of this pain is anxiety.

Anxiety can happen to anyone at any time. It doesn’t discriminate based on gender, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, age, or country of origin. It’s human nature to feel panic, fear, and stress in certain situations. Still, if these feelings linger unabated and have unassuming triggers, you may be at risk of a more serious anxiety disorder. And a byproduct of the anxiety? Wide-ranging physical issues, including neck pain.

Anxiety Is a Pain In The Neck

Anxiety can be a real pain in your neck, not to mention triggering other forms of discomfort throughout your body. And it’s more prevalent than you think. According to a study by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, researchers who utilized the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale discovered that a large percentage of participants with neck pain reported instances of anxiety, depression, and related conditions. The study found that 68% of participants said they had anxiety, but also said there is a shortage of corroborating evidence elsewhere to be compared against.

It’s also interesting to note that the link between neck pain and mood disorders, across multiple surveys, shows that this location is allied with psychological distress like anxiety and depression, which are “known risk factors for neck pain.”

If anxiety is a known cause of neck pain, it makes sense that knowing what drives anxiety and related conditions could help avoid the discomfort and other problems. 

What causes anxiety?

Like so many other problems with a psychological component, no one knows for certain what causes anxiety. There are educated guesses, of course, among them:

  • Known medical problems. This includes heart disease, diabetes, thyroid problems, respiratory problems, substance abuse disorder, other chronic pain conditions or irritable bowel syndrome, particular medicine, and other medical conditions.
  • An unknown medical condition could cause anxiety and neck pain, especially if there’s no history of anxiety among blood relatives, you have never had it before, you don’t avoid what many people consider stressful situations, or you have a sudden burst of anxiety unrelated to stress or a previous episode of mental illness.

You and 40 million U.S. adults with anxiety could also be susceptible to it and its many physical symptoms if there’s a history of:

  • Trauma
  • Illness-related stress 
  • A buildup of stress from daily life without a healthy way to expunge it
  • Your personality 
  • You have another mental health disorder
  • Family history

But what if your neck pain isn’t anxiety or stress-related?

That’s a possibility, and one worth discussing, without kicking anxiety to the curb. But let’s talk about what neck pain feels like. Most people use words and phrases like persistent ache, stabbing or burning, sensitivity to mild pressure, headaches, numbness or tingling in the arms, and tension or tightening of neck muscles. 

Overall, it’s not good. As you try and manage anxiety to reduce neck pain, consider other factors which may add to or cause your discomfort, things like:

  • Your age. As people grow older, they may be susceptible to degenerative conditions like osteoarthritis or spinal stenosis.
  • Injury caused by sudden trauma or forced movements to the head or neck.
  • Mental stress.
  • Physical strain caused by your profession or other activity.
  • Bad posture, obesity, or other things that may interfere with spinal balance.
  • Tumors, growths, or other medical conditions.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Doctors diagnose neck pain through a physical examination and by documenting your medical history and that of your biological family. Your healthcare professional will pinpoint pain and mobility problems by feeling and moving your neck and may also verify muscle strength and reflexes. Be sure to tell your doctor if you had previous neck injuries which might have resulted in whiplash or a herniated disc. There may also be questions about your profession or other activities which may affect your neck. 

Anxiety, stress, and other mental health issues could be the culprit if there isn’t a medical problem. Your specialist will also look for other circumstances or triggers of anxiety that could, in turn, lead to neck pain. Finally, treatment may include pain medicine, counseling, diet and exercise, lifestyle changes, or ketamine therapy.

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