Muscle tension in the neck is a common musculoskeletal disorder. The neck is made up of flexible muscles that support the weight of the head. The muscles can experience injury and irritation from overuse and poor posture habits. Worn joints or compressed nerves can cause neck pain, but muscle spasms or soft tissue injuries commonly cause neck tension. Neck tension can present suddenly or progress slowly. Sleeping in an awkward position or straining the neck while engaged/involved in some activity can cause muscles to tense up. Chronic neck tension that comes and goes over the course of weeks or months could have a cause that goes unnoticed, like teeth grinding or being in a hunched position for extended periods.
Symptoms of neck tension
Symptoms can come on suddenly or progressively. These include:
- Turning the head is difficult
- Discomfort and/or pain worsens with certain positions
Because the neck can move in many directions, there are various causes of tension in the neck. These include:
Repetitive motion or overuse injuries
Individuals whose work requires repetitive movements like scanning objects, looking up and behind constantly can strain the muscles.
An adult’s head weighs 10 to 11 pounds. If the weight is not properly distributed and supported with a healthy posture, the neck muscles have to work harder, causing strain.
Computer workstation habits
Individuals that sit at a desk or workstation for most of the day or night can develop hunching habits that they may overlook. This can definitely cause neck muscles to strain.
Constantly looking down at the phone is a common cause of tension in the neck and text neck.
When individuals grind or clench their teeth, pressure is placed on the muscles in the neck and jaw. This pressure strains the muscles, causing pain. There are exercises to promote more relaxed jaw muscles.
Physical activities and sports
Working out in a way that engages the neck muscles or whipping the head around during a game or some physical activity can cause minor neck injury and strain.
Sleep position habits
When sleeping, the head and neck should be aligned with the rest of the body. Using large pillows that elevate the neck too much can cause tension to build up while sleeping.
Heavy purses, backpacks, shoulder bags
Lifting and carrying any heavy object can throw the body out of alignment. This can cause strain on one side of the neck, building tension.
Psychological stress impacts the whole body. When stressed, individuals can inadvertently tense up and strain their muscles.
These are mild to moderate headaches that typically affect the forehead. However, these types of headaches can cause neck tension and tenderness.
Making simple adjustments can help relieve, manage, and prevent tension in the neck and shoulders. These include:
Consider a standing desk. Adjust the workstation so that proper posture along with comfort is maintained. Try different adjustments like the height of the chair, desk, and computer.
Be aware of body posture.
Stay aware of the body’s posture when sitting and standing. Keep the ears, shoulders, and hips in a straight line. Consider phone posture reminders and devices to check in with how you’re holding yourself throughout the day.
Take breaks throughout the day.
Take breaks that will move the body and stretch the neck and upper body. This benefits the muscles, eyes, and mental health.
Improve sleeping positions with a smaller, flatter, firmer pillow.
Reduce weight from the shoulders
Utilize a rolling bag instead of carrying heavy bags and backpacks, and only carry what is necessary.
Try to get 30 minutes of moderate exercise/physical activity a day to keep the body in healthy condition.
Meditation and stretching
Practicing yoga or meditation along with stretching out helps reduce psychological and physical stress. Yoga can count as daily exercise.
Doctor or Dentist
If chronic neck tension is presenting, see a doctor or chiropractor. Consult a dentist about teeth grinding or temporomandibular joint TMJ disorder treatments.
To relieve tension in the neck, try some neck stretches.
- Sitting or standing.
- Clasp the hands on top of the head, elbows pointing outward.
- Gently pull down the chin to the chest
- Hold for 30 seconds.
- Sit with the feet touching the ground.
- Hold the seat with the left hand
- With the right hand on top of the head.
- Gently pull your head to the right, so the ear almost touches the shoulder.
- Hold for 30 seconds
- Repeat on the opposite side.
The Immune System
The Immune System is essential in maintaining health. Its objective is to:
- Neutralize pathogenic microorganisms like bacteria that enter the body and threaten homeostasis.
- Eliminate harmful substances from the environment.
- Fight against cells that cause illnesses like cancer.
Innate and adaptive immune processes.
- The innate system includes exterior defenses, like the skin, proteins, and white blood cells.
- Any organisms that escape the first line of defense have to then face the adaptive system. This is made up of T and B cells.
- The adaptive immune system is constantly adapting and evolving to identify changes in pathogens change over time.
- These systems work together to provide resistance and the elimination of long-term survival of infectious agents in the body.
Chaplin, David D. “Overview of the immune response.” The Journal of allergy and clinical immunology vol. 125,2 Suppl 2 (2010): S3-23. doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2009.12.980
Hawk, Cheryl et al. “Best Practices for Chiropractic Management of Patients with Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain: A Clinical Practice Guideline.” Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.) vol. 26,10 (2020): 884-901. doi:10.1089/acm.2020.0181
Hughes, Stephen Fôn et al. “The role of phagocytic leukocytes following flexible ureterorenoscopy, for the treatment of kidney stones: an observational, clinical pilots-study.” European journal of medical research vol. 25,1 68. 11 Dec. 2020, doi:10.1186/s40001-020-00466-7
Levoska, S. “Jännitysniska” [Tension neck]. Duodecim; laaketieteellinen aikakauskirja vol. 107,12 (1991): 1003-8.
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