• Diana Anderson

WHAT CAUSES NECK TENSION?

Updated: May 28, 2020

Neck and shoulder tension are common complaints among adults of all ages, all professions, and both genders across the world. Neck and shoulder pain slows us down and generally affects our quality of life. 

Neck pain started for me at the age of fifteen after a bad car crash. I’ve had issues with my neck ever since. Now I only have occasional neck pain, because I have learned how to keep my neck muscles happy, as long as I follow certain good practices. So, what causes it and how can you prevent it?


NECK TENSION IS TYPICALLY CAUSED BY A COMBINATION OF FACTORS, FREQUENTLY DUE TO ONE OR MORE OF THE FOLLOWING CONTRIBUTORS: 


  • poor posture

  • lack of body awareness

  • shallow, chest breathing (this uses the shoulder muscles to draw in air)

  • lack of feeling satisfied

  • stress with the release of the hormone cortisol

  • negative thoughts 

  • Weak muscles from injuries


HOW DO YOU HELP MUSCLES TO RELAX? BY DOING THE OPPOSITE:

  • good posture

  • body awareness

  • deep belly breathing

  • feeling satisfied

  • positive thoughts free from worry or doubt

  • Neck strengthening exercises to stabilize the muscles


Doing what is good for us is not always easy nor does it necessarily feel natural. We are programmed from our early ancestors to look for the worst-case scenario, because in less developed times our ancestors had to predict what might happen in the dark while walking through the forest, in order to survive. We no longer have such grave concerns, but the natural tendencies are hard to fight, especially when we are not paying attention to our thoughts. 


Negative thoughts, worry, stressing about tasks ahead, deadlines, rushing, and many similar patterns cause your nervous system to feel that there is a treat. This triggers a cascade of physiological events that can put you into a fight-or-flight mode, which burns up resources and creates tension throughout your body. Tension also prevents relaxed breathing.

A series of negative thoughts can cause muscles to tighten, breathing to become more shallow, and then you may start to breathe using chest muscles instead of your diaphragm. This uses chest and shoulder muscles to open the chest to pull in air. This will tire out the shoulders quickly and cause tightness and pain. 

As the muscles fatigue, small areas of the muscle will cramp up, which cuts of the blood circulation to the cramped-up muscle. Then the muscle cramps even more. We call these trigger points and they feel like painful knots. They are sections of a muscle with inadequate circulation. Rubbing or massage can help and pressing on the knots can further cut off circulation temporarily, so that when released, a small amount of extra blood flows into that area and helps relieve the cramp.

Negative thoughts also deplete your body of a valuable hormone called serotonin. Serotonin helps promote circulation and it flows more freely when you feel satisfied. A lack of feeling satisfied leads to more negative feelings, poor posture, low energy, poor circulation, shallow breathing, chest breathing, using the shoulder muscles to breathe, and neck and shoulder pain.


HOW CAN YOU INCREASE FEELINGS OF SATISFACTION AND GENUINELY SMILE, EVEN WHEN YOU DON’T FEEL WELL? TRY THIS:


  1. Notice what you are grateful to have in your life. Pay attention to things that matter a lot to you and be happy that you enjoy them.

  2. Smile for no reason. Look at a funny video. Look at old pictures that make you smile. Think about how lucky you are.

  3. Take your mind off of cares and worries so your system can relax and appreciate the small things in life, like eating something yummy, talking with a loved one, petting an animal, watching nature, or closing your eyes to feel the world around you.


IT SEEMS LIKE AN OVERSIMPLIFICATION, BUT FEELING SATISFIED AND HAVING POSITIVE THOUGHTS IS QUITE HELPFUL IN KEEPING MUSCLES RELAXED ENOUGH THAT THEY ARE PREPARED TO FUNCTION AS THEY ARE MEANT TO DO. 

IF YOU SUFFER FROM NECK OR SHOULDER TENSION OFTEN, WORK TO MAKE THESE CHANGES AS HABITS:

  1. Retrain your body how to breathe and feel—to be present. 

  2. Remind yourself that you are satisfied. 

  3. Become aware of your breath. Notice the rise and fall of your belly as you inhale and exhale. With each inhalation, your belly will rise. It will fall inward with each exhalation. 

  4. When you are relaxed, meaning your feel a sense of peace or satisfaction, your shoulders will not work at all to help you breath. If they are working, then your stomach and chest muscles are too tense for your belly to expand and contract enough to get enough air, so your other muscles must pitch in to assist.

  5. Think about tightening your latissimus dorsi (lat) muscles, which are located on your back below your armpits. When your lat muscles are engaged, it draws down your shoulder muscles and makes it easier to belly breathe. 

  6. Now, take some time to think about relaxing your shoulder muscles. Feel them. Then feel them relax. Do this while you feel gratitude for what you have, even if what you have is just the power of being alive. Feel grateful for the moment, even if you are in a lot of pain. Be grateful you can feel. That you are not paralyzed or blind. Just feel grateful for whatever you have. Smile. As you smile and feel satisfied, your neck and shoulder muscles will relax. 


IN ADDITION TO THE INTERNAL THINGS YOU CAN DO TO HELP EASE SHOULDER AND NECK PAIN, THESE EXTERNAL THINGS CAN ALSO HELP:

  1. Anything that causes you to relax deeply

  2. Intimacy with your partner

  3. Breath awareness

  4. Shoulder rubbing, firm or slow and gentle

  5. Creams and ointments

  6. White Flower menthol oil

  7. Arnica liniment

  8. Castor oil

  9. Vicks vapor rub

  10. Cannabis topical rubs

  11. Eastern medicine herbal rubs

  12. Hot bath

  13. Writing in your gratitude journal

  14. Doing something nice for someone less fortunate

  15. Yogic breathing exercises, Qigong

  16. Gentle, slow stretches with body awareness


Neck and shoulder tension is preventable and curable. It takes awareness and focused time to release the tension and relax the body. Nothing works better at relieving that tension than what is mentioned here. Pain pills and muscle relaxers are dangerous treatments for this kind of pain because they hurt the liver and take away from the satisfaction and body awareness that you need.

We can all benefit from taking time to feel satisfied and to rest and relax. As we relax, we enjoy more energy with less pain, as well as a higher quality of life. Have a relaxing day!


READ MORE ABOUT CREAMS AND LOTIONS THAT HELP WITH NECK AND BACK TENSION