Woman sitting in front of computer with neck pain

Woman sitting in front of computer with neck painRecent studies show that 29 percent of U.S. adults believe stress and anxiety cause their back pain, and patients with stress were twice as likely to develop chronic back pain.

We develop stress for many reasons – financial uncertainty, challenges at work, family life, relationship problems, societal pressures, illness or a death in the family. Stress doesn’t just take a toll on our mental health; it can also create physical symptoms.

When stress occurs, it causes the sympathetic nervous system to release cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. Cortisol can cause muscle tightness, increased heart rate and respiratory rate, and muscle tension. Stress can affect multiple systems and organs in the body, including the skin, digestive system, immune system, heart, joints and muscles, and your spine.

If you become stressed and begin to hold tension in your muscles, you can create stiffness and pain in your back. Poor spine posture can also lead to stress induced back and neck pain.

If you are experiencing stress along with back or neck pain, there are a few things you can try at home to get relief:

  1. Eat a healthy diet. A Mediterranean diet can help reduce inflammation in the body.
  2. Exercise regularly. Going for a walk everyday can help stabilize your mood, relieve stress and muscle tension, and improve your sleep.
  3. Develop good sleep habits. Sleep is the time when your body rests and recovers. Getting enough rest will help reduce your stress levels and alleviate tension you may be carrying that is contributing to your physical pain.
  4. Pay attention to your posture. Having poor posture can cause strain on the back and neck. When you feel stressed make a conscious effort to release tension held in the muscles of your back, neck and shoulders which can cause you to slouch or hunch over.
  5. Incorporate mindfulness-based stress reduction into your routine. This can include deep breathing exercises, meditation or yoga. These types of activities harness the power of the mind-body connection. By relieving some of your mental stress, you may be able to translate that into reduction of stress-induced back and neck pain.

Stress can cause or worsen back pain, but recognizing your stressors and developing healthy habits and coping mechanisms can help you manage or prevent pain. If your back pain is not improving you may be experiencing structural problems such as, muscle spasm, spinal joint misalignments, pinched nerves, disc herniations/bulges, sciatica or even spinal stenosis. If you continue to feel pain, or your pain worsens, you should consult with your healthcare provider.


David J. BenEliyahu, DC, FICC, DABCSP is the Administrative Director of the Back & Neck Pain Center at Mather Hospital.