How to Relieve Neck Pain Caused by Stress

There’s no question that tension and stress can manifest itself in the body. Whether it’s a headache or tight muscles, psychological factors can take a toll on our physical body.

See Stress-Related Back Pain

women with neck pain at doctor consultation If stress-induced neck pain does not subside after a week or two of self-care, see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment. See Treatment for Neck Pain

One of the most common sites in the body where the effects of stress can be felt is the neck. From the base of the skull to the top of your shoulders, your neck can become a center of pain and tension as stress and worries build.

See Neck Pain Symptoms, Causes, and Diagnosis

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How stress triggers pain

Stress-induced neck pain is defined as pain that is either triggered or worsened by psychological or emotional factors. For example, the initial neck pain may be caused by an injury that strains the muscles in the neck, but the pain continues for days or weeks afterward as stress caused by the injury or other factors builds—maybe even long after the muscle tissue has healed from the initial accident.

Watch: Treatment for Neck Strain or Sprain Video

That’s not to say that stress-induced neck pain is “all in your head”—the pain and symptoms are very real. It’s just that the causes are not physical in nature.

See 5 Things You Should Know About Chronic Pain

Some experts think that stress-induced neck pain is caused by a physical factor: namely, a low but constant level of activity in the trapezius muscles that stretch from the back of neck out to the upper shoulders. However, studies found no correlation between neck pain and muscle activity.1 The only positive connection was between neck pain and perceived tension/stress.2

See Cervical Spine Anatomy and Neck Pain

6 tips to tackle stress-induced neck pain

By focusing on ways to treat both the mind and the body, you can help lessen stress and the toll it can take on you. Try these methods to manage stress-induced neck pain:

  1. Neck stretches
    If done regularly, stretching exercises for the neck can loosen muscle tightness and maintain or expand range of motion for the neck. Try these 2 stretches to get started.
  2. See Trigger Point Exercises for Neck Pain

  3. Therapy or support group
    Cognitive behavioral therapy has proven benefits for helping to develop healthy thought patterns, but even a support group or online forum where you can share your concerns and receive support can help you manage day-to-day stressors.

    Visit our very active Spine-health Forum to find online support.

  4. Meditation
    Practicing meditation is a good way to calm your thoughts and anxieties. Look for a guided meditation video on YouTube or attend a class to learn how.
  5. See Healing Benefits of Yoga

  6. Enlisting help from family and friends
    You don’t have to tackle stress alone; let your family and friends help carry the load. Be clear about ways they can help you—ask if a friend can run an errand for you, or assign your children extra chores around the house during stressful periods.
  7. Massage
    Massage is not only relaxing and stress-relieving overall, but it can specifically ease the tightness of the muscles of the neck and shoulders.

    See Massage Chairs for Pain Relief

  8. Exercise
    Exercise is good for your body and mind. It releases endorphins, a hormone that dulls pain and generates feelings of well-being.

    See Low-Impact Aerobic Exercise

  9. Prioritizing
    You’re not a superhero—let inconsequential things go if they’re taking a toll on your health. Focus on what’s most important and don’t worry if things further down the priority list get delayed or undone for a while.

See Noninvasive Pain Management Techniques

If your stress-induced neck pain is not relieved by a week or two of self-care, see your doctor. He or she can offer other treatment option and diagnose possible underlying conditions.

See Diagnosing Neck Pain

Learn more

Stiff Neck Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

9 Lesser-Known Tips for Easing Neck Pain


  1. Trapezius muscle activity as a risk indicator for shoulder and neck pain in female service workers with low biomechanical exposure. Ergonomics. 2001 Feb 20;44(3):339-53.
  2. The effect of pain reduction on perceived tension and EMG-recorded trapezius muscle activity in workers with shoulder and neck pain. Scand J Rehabil Med. 1995 Dec;27(4):243-52.
Post written by Carrie DeVries