Are you tired of having a tense neck plaguing you with constant pain? There are many root causes for neck tension, some of which are more serious than others.
You may be unsure of what the source of your tension is. Alternatively, you might be suffering from a recent injury, trying to determine how it could affect your neck and cause all this unpleasant tension. To help you manage the situation and decide the best course of action to ease your discomfort, we have put together a list of the top 10 things that could be directly impacting your neck tension right now.
What Is Neck Tension?
Neck tension is another way to describe the muscle tightness that many people often experience as part of their day-to-day lives. Your neck is the supporting base for your head and comprises moveable and extendable muscles. These muscles are highly sensitive, making them potentially prone to irritation and injury from strain or bad posture.
Neck tension is usually accompanied by frequent spasms and may result from an injury to the soft tissues of the surrounding areas. For instance, the upper part of your spine is in your neck, so any injury to this cervical region of your body can cause increased tension and pain. This tension may occur suddenly or come on gradually.
Tension that appears all at once is usually the result of a sudden-impact injury or awkward position that affects your posture. Neck tension that develops over time could be the result of some of your common habits that are slowly straining and aggravating your neck muscles.
Signs and Symptoms
Neck tension may manifest itself in various ways, but there are some key indicators to look out for if you think you might have this issue.
These symptoms may appear gradually or pop up all at once:
If you find it a challenge to move your head one way or the other, or have discovered that certain positions increase your pain level, then you are likely dealing with neck tension.
Causes of Neck Strain
Neck tension often results when you engage in any movement repeatedly that strains your neck past its normal parameters. For example, if your job requires you to perform a strenuous action over and over again, then this can lead to considerable tightness and discomfort.
Alternatively, if you continuously sleep in a position that is awkward or unnatural, this can also increase your tension level. Your neck and head should be properly aligned with your spine and body during sleep, otherwise you might experience ongoing tightness and pain from the shoulders up. While extra plush pillows feel wonderful, sleeping with your neck too high above your head puts you out of alignment and leads to increased tension.
Your posture is one of the most important contributing factors to neck tension. Your head, on average, weighs about 10 or 11 pounds. That makes it far heavier than your neck. If you are not sitting or standing correctly, the muscles in your neck are put under constant strain to hold up your noggin.
Other unsuspecting culprits of neck problems are our computers and phones. If we do not use those devices correctly, they can easily sabotage the muscles in our necks. If your job requires you to sit behind a computer for many hours throughout the day, you might have the tendency to slump your shoulders toward your monitor — another motion that puts undue strain on your neck.
When we talk on the phone, if we wedge it between our shoulder and ear, that results in wear and tear on your neck. So, too, does holding your phone in both hands and bending your head down for long periods of time. Both actions destroy our posture and, over time, these bad, but common habits, can really weaken our neck muscle and cause tension.
Strenuous Physical Activity
Too much exercise or physical activity can cause neck tension, such as lifting heavy weights or making quick movements when playing a favorite sport. Just about any physical activity requires the use of your muscles and often those in your neck are affected as your limbs engage in big, sudden and sometimes awkward movements.
If you are lifting something that is too heavy for you or making sudden movements that stretch your muscles too quickly, this could be another source of your tension.
Emotional distress has a domino effect on the rest of your body, including your neck muscles. If you are stressed, your body automatically tenses up and irritates those areas. Over time, this can cause significant discomfort and tightness that could lead to headaches and reflective pain.
10 Things that Directly Impact Your Neck Tension
Soft Tissue Injuries
Soft tissue injuries directly impact your neck tension. As your body is interconnected with muscles and tissues, injury to one area of your neck can lead to discomfort and damage in another.
When you injure the muscles and tendons in your neck, this that is considered damage to the soft tissue. Likewise, any strain to the cervical spine or surrounding neck tissues can lead to tension.
Nerve or Spinal Injuries
If you have recently experienced a neck injury that affected your nerves or spine, you can expect to feel considerable tension as a result until the injury heals. Injuries that affect the nervous system are typically more serious and any related pressure on the nerves or spinal cord will radiate upward, causing ... you guessed it — neck tension.
We have all experienced a cramp or crick in our necks from time to time. This is one of the most common causes of tension, and could result from poor posture, muscle spasms and/or arthritis, to name a few frequent mitigating factors. These cramps usually resolve themselves eventually, with some at-home stretches and an over-the-counter medication like acetaminophen or ibuprofen to ease inflammation.
Significant strain in your neck will lead undoubtedly to tension. Damage to the neck muscles that enable your head to move reduces your mobility and tightens those surrounding muscles. These strains may be mild or very severe.
More mild strains usually require pain medication and lessened activity to treat, with the pain subsiding in as little as a few days. More severe strains, such as those resulting from a car accident, trauma or dislocation, have a much longer recovery.
Neck sprain occurs when you injure a ligament, the tissue that connects your bones. If you fall or twist suddenly, this can sprain your joints and surrounding muscles in the cervical spine. Ongoing activity that overloads your joints like carrying something too heavy or excessive exercise could also reap the same
Sprains will typically cause pain that develops over time and reaches a boiling point, leading to neck tension, headaches, spasms, shoulder pain, numbness and tingling. You might even notice seemingly unrelated symptoms like a sore throat or
Whiplash is commonly experienced after a car accident, occurring when your head overextends and is thrown forward suddenly. You might also have whiplash as the result of a fall, sports injury or other accident. The aggravation caused to your joints, discs or nerves by whiplash will lead to tension. You might also experience tingling, numbness, muscle weakness, dizziness or other symptoms
A Herniated Disc
If you have been diagnosed with a herniated disc, this issue will manifest itself in palpable neck tension. A herniated disc takes place when the gel inside your neck or cervical spine discs gets out and collides with the root of a nerve, causing pain, burning, numbness and muscle weakness, depending on the severity of the herniation.
Also known as stingers or burners, temporary injuries to your spinal nerves or brachial plexus, which encompasses the area along your spine, neck and into your ribs, will cause neck tension. Sports players typically incur these types of injuries, with a sudden turn of the head or overextension of the head and shoulder area. Stingers and burners can cause stinging, burning and numbing sensations, along with tightness and tension throughout your neck and back.
Neck fractures are actual breaks in the cervical area, often caused by falls, traumatic injuries, spinal degeneration or surgery such as that to remove or replace herniated discs. Fractures will inherently lead to tension as they have damaged and strained the surrounding area. Mobility must often be slowed to allow a fracture to heal, which can also cause aggravation and further tension.
Another key factor that can directly impact your neck tension is when you have dislocated a bone in your neck. This occurs when a bone diverges from its regular placement, affecting the stability of your spine and surrounding ligaments. If you recently suffered a severe injury or trauma that caused a dislocation, then it is likely you also have a fracture in place, which compounds the tension.
Neck tension is a multi-faceted complaint that finds its root in many diverse causes. This tension may result from something as simple as poor posture at work to something as serious as a broken neck from a car accident.
Still, neck tension is a common issue which typically resolves itself quickly when not attributed to actual impact injuries. However, if you are experiencing neck tension as the result of a recent impact injury, it is imperative to remain under a doctor's care. If you have not sustained a discernible injury, but notice that your tension does not abate after a few days, or you experience pain in other areas of your body, speak with your doctor at once to make sure there are no underlying issues.