Neck pain, stiff neck due to stress: Do you have regular pain in your shoulders and neck? For example, do you experience stabbing pain when you move your head or do you feel muscle pain in your neck? Or do you feel that your head cannot move any further and that your neck is stuck? Then it is possible that you suffer from a stiff neck! Stiff neck muscles are very annoying and have different causes, for example when you sleep badly or when you experience stress.
In this article we will elaborate on exactly what a stiff neck is, tell more about the symptoms of neck pain, what causes having a stiff neck or neck pain. In addition, we will elaborate on the question whether it is also possible to reduce a stiff neck itself. And if so, how to do that exactly!
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What is a stiff neck?
When you suffer from a stiff neck, you don’t have to worry right away. You don’t need to call a doctor: 2 out of 3 people suffer from neck stiffness and it’s one of the most common problems. When people have muscle problems, a stiff neck is often the culprit. So a stiff neck occurs regularly, but it has several causes.
Your neck consists of muscles, bones and nerves. These connect your head with the rest of your body. When you feel that you have a stiff neck, it means that one or more of those muscles is stiff and painful. Often you can feel this, for example by gently pressing on the muscle. The muscle then feels hard and in most cases it also hurts when you press it.
A stiff neck is very annoying and persistent complaints can certainly hinder you in your daily activities. In most cases, having a stiff neck will go away after a few days or the pain will be much less. You should also notice that you become more mobile and that you slowly get your movement back. If this is not the case, you should look for another solution to the neck pain. It is important that you find out the cause of your stiff neck and see if you can do something about it.
Muscle pain in neck = stiff neck muscles
A stiff neck does indeed feel like you have muscle ache in your neck. Waste products such as lactic acid accumulate in the muscles, which causes the pain in the muscles. The stiff neck muscles can make your head turn or move quite painful. Nevertheless, it is important that you keep moving your neck muscles. If you don’t do this, the muscle pain will only last longer.
Muscle pain occurs not only in our neck muscles, but in all muscles of our body. Through muscle tension, waste products accumulate in a muscle. As a result, the muscle is somewhat swollen. Such a painful muscle can be up to 10% thicker than normal, so it can deliver less strength. As long as you don’t move the muscle, you have little trouble. When the muscle is activated, you feel that the muscle feels stiff and painful. Muscle pain disappears within a few days and falls under the ‘innocent ailments’.
A muscle twisted in your neck?
It all looks a little bit alike, but a sprained muscle is something else than a stiff neck. A sprained muscle occurs when the muscle fibers are stretched too far. In worse cases, this causes a tear in a number of muscle fibers or a complete tear in the muscle.
In contrast to muscle pain, a stretched muscle does not swell. The muscle also remains painful if you don’t move. The recovery of a sprained muscle takes 1 to 2 weeks.
Pain in shoulder and neck
There are certain muscles that react to stress: our shoulder and neck muscles are extremely sensitive to it. People with stress or a burnout often have muscle pain. Excessive muscle tension in your shoulders and neck also causes tension headaches.
Neck and shoulder complaints unfortunately all too often indicate a too high stress level.
Rigid neck and neck pain: what are the symptoms?
As described above, it is difficult not to recognize a stiff neck. The pain is present and you will notice it with every movement. In most cases you will also notice that you are less mobile and that you struggle to (or can’t) move your head as easily.
Twisting and nodding your head is painful. Sometimes the pain may not only remain in the neck, but also radiates to your shoulders. Having a headache is also one of the consequences of having neck pain. In some cases you also experience dizziness.
Causes of neck pain
A stiff neck doesn’t come easy! There are a number of causes that can lead to a stiff neck. The most important cause is that a stiff neck is caused by stuck muscles. The stuck muscles can be caused by the wrong strain on your neck. This can be for example when you have lifted boxes that are too heavy, but a wrong sleeping position can also contribute to this. It is therefore important that you have a mattress and pillow that suits your body and sleeping position, so that you try to prevent a stiff neck in this way.
It is also important that you have the right posture while sitting. Other consequences of a stiff neck are cold on your muscles and making an unexpected movement (muscle stretching). In addition, you may suffer from a stiff neck after you have had the flu. Finally, being stressed can also be a culprit when it comes to a stiff neck. We will discuss this in more detail later in this article.
Reduce and prevent a stiff neck
The most important thing you can do to reduce your neck stiffness is to continue with your daily activities. One of the biggest mistakes made by people who suffer from neck stiffness is that they start to make convulsive movements or in some cases even stop moving. When you do this, you get more pain in your muscles so that you don’t get rid of your symptoms, as it were. You then end up in a kind of vicious circle and that has to be prevented of course. So try to stay mobile as much as possible!
In addition, you might want to see if it helps to use a heat pillow or hot water bottle. Heat is very important anyway, so wearing a scarf can also provide relief. When it is really difficult to continue your daily activities because of the pain, you could take an ibuprofen three times a day, during the meal. After a few days this will no longer be necessary.
Involving a service provider
Did your stiff neck really bother you for a long time or does it keep coming back? In that case it is advisable to contact a counsellor, such as a physiotherapist. They can look at the problem and find out the exact cause of the neck pain. In most cases, the physiotherapist will massage you or use a heat lamp to reduce the pain. In addition, he or she will often give you a number of assignments that you can do at home to reduce the neck pain. They will certainly come up with an appropriate solution!
If you suffer from neck pain or neck and shoulder pain due to psychological factors, you can also see with a coach or psychologist whether you can reduce these factors and feelings of stress.
A stiff neck or neck pain due to stress
That stress isn’t good for us, we know that by now. Having stress can lead to muscle tension, which can eventually lead to neck pain. Of course this is very annoying and to counteract this, you have to try to tackle the problem: the stress! This is the cause and if you don’t tackle this cause properly, it can eventually even lead to a burnout, after which you are a lot further away from home. Of course you want to prevent this as much as possible!
In order to reduce the feelings of stress you have to look for the cause of the problem. It is difficult to say exactly what this cause is. It may be that it is a temporary stress, after you have started a new job, for example, or that you are experiencing slightly heavier moments while studying. These feelings of stress are completely normal and everyone experiences this sometimes. These feelings of stress are also good for us, because they keep us functioning properly!
However, having stress can also become structural and that is a lot less good. It can happen, for example, when you experience a large amount of work pressure for a longer period of time. It can also happen after you feel uncomfortable, for example because of an unpleasant home situation or other personal circumstances. Whatever it is exactly, tackling the problem is very important, so that you avoid experiencing stress for a longer period of time. If stress persists, it can also lead to burnout.
Also read: symptoms of burnout
Help with burnout and stress
Dealing with stress and burnout is not always easy. Of course you want to do what you are good at and be busy with the things that give you energy and build yourself up. However, there are always factors that stand in the way. A great need to do someone else a favour for example, or your wish to do a task well.
In order to cope with stress and burnout, it is best not to reinvent the wheel. Many people do try this. They go looking for answers themselves, while these answers lie in the hands of a good coach. Moreover, a coach helps you to gain insight into yourself, so that you build up a healthy and balanced self-image and take control of your own life.
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Learn more: Stress and burnout coaching
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