The brain sends electrical signals, or nerve impulses, to trigger muscle movement. Muscles can either contract or relax, depending on the message that they receive from the brain.
Muscle tension occurs when a muscle stays contracted despite receiving signals from the brain that tell it to relax. If a muscle remains contracted for too long, it can cause pain.
People can develop neck tension for numerous reasons. Common causes of neck tension include:
Poor posture can affect the neck muscles. People who find themselves hunching over their computer or slouching in their chair all day may notice some neck tension after a while.
The authors of a 2016 study involving 126 college students found a correlation between a forward head position and increased neck pain and disability.
Poor posture can cause the weight of the head to shift forward and away from the center of the body, forcing the neck muscles to work harder to support the head.
Hunching over a computer or looking down at a phone not only moves the head forward but also forces the neck to bend with it. This bending can overextend the muscles in the back of the neck, resulting in pain and inflammation.
Sleeping in the wrong position
Posture affects the body at all times, even during sleep. People who sleep on their stomachs tend to rest one side of their face on the pillow. Doing this can overextend the muscles on that side of the neck.
Sleeping with large pillows can elevate the head too high, forcing the neck to bend forward. Staying in this position throughout the night may result in neck tension the following morning.
Repetitive neck movements
People who perform repetitive movements throughout the day can develop repetitive motion disorders.
While these disorders usually occur in the hands, wrists, and shoulders, they can also affect the neck, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Without treatment, repetitive motion disorders can lead to pain, swelling, and even permanent tissue damage.
Bruxism is a condition in which people grind or clench their teeth while they sleep. Grinding or clenching the teeth puts pressure on the muscles in the jaw and neck, which can cause neck tension, pain, and headaches.
A person can injure the muscles in their neck if they lift heavy weights, play impact sports, or experience whiplash from a car accident.
These types of injuries can cause mild-to-severe muscle strains, which may require medical treatment or physical therapy.
Untreated muscle strains can lead to persistent neck pain and even permanent damage that reduces the range of motion and flexibility in the neck.
Stress has a powerful effect on the entire body. When the brain senses stress, it signals the release of several hormones, such as cortisol and epinephrine. These hormones increase the heart rate and blood pressure, as well as tightening the muscles.
When a person experiences stress regularly, their muscles remain tense and contracted for longer periods, which can result in neck and shoulder tension.
These individuals also reported higher levels of stress, engaged in less physical activity, and rated their health poorly in comparison with the participants who had migraine without tension headaches and neck pain.
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