Ever wondered where that dull consistent pain in your neck and shoulders is coming from? Although some of the common causes of neck and shoulder pain are sprains and strains from sports, overexertion or incorrect posture, there is reason for you to believe that such pains are connected to stress. In fact, multiple studies have shown how high levels of emotional or psychological stress can contribute to chronic physical pain, which most often manifests in the neck and shoulders.

How stress adds to neck and shoulder pain

The body is wired to handle small spurts of stress. In small doses, stress can help an individual accomplish tasks, steer clear of danger, dodge a cold and experience improved cognitive function. According to an article by Time, eustress or positive stress can also help enhance motivation, build resiliency, encourage growth and promote bonding. In itself, stress isn’t all that bad — what makes it detrimental to the body is length and frequency. When you are constantly exposed to physical and emotional stress, your body would be in continuous fight or flight mode, which can lead to chronic pain in multiple parts of the body such as the neck and the shoulders.

So how does stress contribute to neck and shoulder pain? Since stress is just as much of a physiological phenomenon as it is a psychological phenomenon, the body functions differently when under stress. For instance, the blood vessels in your large muscles dilate to allow faster oxygen delivery. Muscles along the neck, by the jaw, around the shoulders and at the top of the back tighten and clench, thereby restricting movement. A recent study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information also mentioned that chronic stress activates certain parts of the body, such as the nervous system, longer than they should be. Persistently stressed nerves and muscles not only amplify even the slightest pain. They also cause pain that is far more difficult to manage since it is not rooted from a single tangible cause.

Relieving the effects of stress on the neck and shoulders

Although managing stress-related pains can be a challenge sometimes, there are a lot of things you can do to somehow alleviate them:

Doing simple neck and shoulder exercises

There is nothing more effective in relieving stress than a good dose of simple exercise on a regular basis. A guide to neck and shoulder exercises by Pain Free Working enumerates several easy ways you can do this at your desk:

Double chin: Lean forward, tuck your chin in then pull your head back as if you’re leaning on a reclining headrest. Hold each position for 10 seconds then repeat the cycle 10 times.

Shoulder and neck stretch: Relax your shoulders and tilt your head to the right. Hold it for a few seconds then let your hand gently pull your head until you feel a slight burn on the opposite side of your neck. Do the same for the other side, holding every position for 10 seconds.

Investing on an ergonomic workstation

As mentioned, one of the most common causes of neck and shoulder pain is posture. If your job requires you to sit in front of a computer or laptop through the entirety of your workday, make sure that your desk, chair and other connected devices are positioned in such a way that doesn’t strain the body. TechRepublic’s guide to improving workplace ergonomics highly recommends investing in an adjustable chair and desk. It would also be a good idea to ensure that your monitors are placed at eye level and that your keyboard and mouse can be accessed with your arms, wrists and fingers not breaking any of the neutral positioning tools.

Doing some self-massage

Woman doing self-massage in a bright room

Although kneading may seem like a deeper technique compared to feathering or light and deep stroking, there is no reason for you to feel intimidated by it. As highlighted in our previous post ‘Kneading: Self-Massage for Relieving Pain and Tension’, just like how one would knead bread dough, this technique will require some lifting, compressing, rolling and/or squeezing of a specific area of muscle mass. To relieve some tension, stiffness and pain in the neck and shoulders, use the palm of your hands and fingers to knead these areas. Do it alternately and rhythmically to achieve the best results.

Article specially written for truerelaxations.com by Amily Boyd