Understanding the relationship between stress and neck pain

There it is again. You’ve just finished a long, stressful day at work, and you start feeling pain in your neck. What you may not know is that stress and neck pain are more connected than you might think. 

It’s not a secret that Americans tend to have high-stress lives. A study by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that 33% of Americans are living with extreme stress. Of these people, it’s reported that 77% experienced physical symptoms of stress. These statistics can help you see that stress and neck discomfort are connected, but they don’t reveal how they’re connected. Physical therapy specialists can educate you on how these two issues are connected. 

How are stress and neck pain connected? 

The basic answer to this question is that stress and neck pain are physically connected issues. Physical therapists are experts in the musculoskeletal system, which includes muscles. Typically, the path from psychological stress to physical neck pain follows these basic steps: 

  1. Stress triggers muscle tension — One common physical reaction to stress is to tense our muscles. In fact, it’s reported that 30% of people develop muscle tension when stressed. Many people tend to develop this tension in their neck muscles. 
  1. Stress releases hormones — Another physical reaction your body has to stress is to release hormones like cortisol. This hormone increases sensitivity to pain. 
  1. Tension reduces blood flow — Neck muscle tension causes blood vessels in the neck to shrink. This means that cortisol can build up in your neck muscles since your blood isn’t flowing as much. 
  1. Tension restricts movement and leads to pain — The tension in your neck muscles makes normal muscle movements more difficult. Combined with the high cortisol levels, this restriction can cause you to feel pain in your neck. 

How can physical therapy help treat stress-related neck pain?

Physical therapists can build you a personalized therapy plan to treat neck pain and the stress that’s causing it. Such a plan could include therapy methods like: 

  • Manual therapy designed to decrease the tension in your neck muscles 
  • Dry needling to break down myofascial trigger points that have formed due to chronic neck muscle tension 
  • Therapeutic exercises intended to stretch the neck muscles and improve blood flow 
  • At-home care sessions that can help you avoid the stress of coming into a therapy clinic but still allow you to work with your physical therapist in person 
  • Virtual therapy sessions that allow you to work with your physical therapist over a secure online video feed.

Back in Motion offers effective physical therapy for stress-related neck pain

Tired of endless cycles of stress and neck pain? Our team at Back in Motion offers physical therapy designed to break this cycle. We can perform a comprehensive evaluation to pinpoint what issues are contributing to your neck pain. Then, our physical therapists can construct an individualized therapy plan intended to reduce your pain and prevent it from recurring. 

Contact us today for more information about our neck pain treatment services or to schedule your initial appointment. 

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