What’s Giving You A Pain In The Neck?

by Saleena Kench, PT, DPT, June 13, 2016

Stress and Its Correlation to Neck Pain

Saleena Kench

Most of us have felt tension in the neck and shoulders: Women are emotional beings and we often tend to carry our stress in the neck and mid back area. As a physical therapist, I constantly work with women who suffer from neck pain, tension headaches or generalized tightness throughout the upper body. Women are constantly juggling between various roles and research studies indicate a higher incidence of neck pain among women and an increased risk of developing neck pain until the 35-49 age range.1

During times of fatigue and/or stressful situations our body goes into a shallow breathing mode. The intercostal muscles overact and full expansion of the diaphragm does not occur. This exacerbates tension in the anterior neck musculature. Furthermore, studies have shown that stress causes clenching of the jaw.2 There is overlap between muscles that attach to the jaw and the upper cervical spine. Increased strain in this area can result in what we describe as tension headaches. The cervical spine has an original curve, which ensures that the vertebrae are aligned well. Improper posture at work, anxiety or a whiplash injury predisposes the spine to move out of that neutral curve. This increases strain on the muscles supporting the spine and the head.


Physical therapy has been very effective in treating these symptoms - a detailed physical therapy evaluation is performed to determine the underlying cause of the problem. The therapist can address various other factors such as posture during work and activities of daily living. I have had a lot of success with manual therapy techniques addressing soft tissue and joint restrictions coupled with breathing, stretching and postural strengthening exercises.

For More Information Please Contact:
Saleena Kench, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist at Nexus Physical Therapy Poway
Specializes in Orthopedics, Spine and Sports Injuries


  1. Best Pract Res Clin Rheumatol. 2010 Dec; 24(6):783-92. Doi: 10.1016/j.berh.2011.01.019.The epidemiology of neck pain. Hoy DG1, Protani M, De R, Buchbinder R.
  2. J Oral Facial Pain Headache. 2014 summer; 28(3):243-51. doi: 10.11607/ofph.1180. "Grin(d) and bear it": narratives from Sami women with and without temporomandibular disorders. A qualitative study. Mienna CS, Johansson EE, Wänman A.

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