This page was published on Jan 27, 2020, modified on Jan 31, 2020 by Dr. Reyfman (Pain Management Specialist) of Pain Physicians NY

Tension neck syndrome is a wide medical term which includes a variety of syndromes and disorders affecting the neck and the shoulder area. The muscle involved in this syndrome is the trapezius muscle. This muscle spans across the shoulders and neck on the upper back. An over activity of the trapezius muscle leads to the development of this syndrome, especially among those who work with their hands, spend a lot of hours in front of the desks working on computers, etc. This syndrome is pretty common, affecting both men and women of every age.

Tension neck syndrome is characterized by neck pain, shoulder pain, accompanied by muscle stiffness, muscle tenderness, and muscle spasms. The sensitive areas of the muscles, commonly known as trigger points lead to pain and discomfort which often radiates to the nearby areas such as the head, the neck, the shoulders and the upper back.

What causes tension neck syndrome?

Tension Neck SyndromeThere are many factors that can contribute to the development of tension neck syndrome. Usually, a chronic strain, a poor body posture, stress, tension and even depression can lead to the development of tension neck syndrome. A repetitive arm and hand work, especially required in some jobs can also lead to the development of tension neck syndrome due to a muscular overload and also due to an unnatural position of the arm. The working environment is also important for the development of tension neck syndrome. If your job requires a constant elevation of the arms, then this is a great contributing factor of this syndrome affecting the neck, the shoulders, and the upper back.

Spending too many hours in front of a computer, especially those who use the mouse has an increased risk of developing tension neck syndrome. Different studies have revealed that people who tend to use the computer and especially the mouse for more than 25 hours a week have an increased risk of developing neck and shoulder pain.

Regardless of the underlying cause that leads to the onset of this syndrome, certain factors, including psychological factors can just make the signs and symptoms of tension neck syndrome get worse from time to time.

Sign and symptoms of tension neck syndrome

Common signs and symptoms of tension neck syndrome are:

  • Pain located in the area where the neck connects to the shoulders,
  • Pain in only one side of the neck, shoulder or upper back,
  • Tension headaches,
  • Muscle spasms of the neck which tend to come and go,
  • Pain that can spread to the nearby areas, including the arm and hand of the affected side, etc.

Our best neck and shoulder pain doctors at Pain Physicians NY provides personalized pain treatment plans for each unique patient.

How is tension neck syndrome diagnosed?

Diagnosing tension neck syndrome can be quite difficult as there are no specific tests or examinations that will help its diagnosis. However, a detailed medical history, including a job history accompanied by a detailed physical examination, especially a detailed examination of the neck, shoulders and upper back will help get to the diagnosis of tension neck syndrome. A proper differential diagnosis of this syndrome from other musculoskeletal disorders affecting the neck, the shoulders, and the upper back is needed in order to access the necessary medical treatment at Pain Management Center.

How is tension neck syndrome treated?

To prevent a tension neck syndrome from occurring in the first place, or to relieve the pain, muscle stiffness and muscle spasms regular breaks every now and then are needed, especially if the neck muscles are already tensed. Carrying lighter loads is also very important, rather than carrying heavy loads which will put an extra pressure on the muscles of the neck, shoulders and back, including your spine.

Even though chronic use of muscle relaxants are not that much recommended, due to the fact that they make the cervical spine even more vulnerable to different injuries, in certain cases these medications are needed to short term relieve the pain and discomfort resulting from tension neck syndrome. Muscle relaxants work by relieving the muscle spasms and muscle stiffness.

Applying heat or cold packs at the affected area can also be helpful, especially in cases when there are muscle knots already formed. However, heat and cold are not recommended in cases when the muscle is inflamed, as it will just make the condition get worse.

Stretching and strengthening exercises are an important part of the recovery of tension neck syndrome, as they will help the shoulders and the upper back get stronger.

Maintaining a good body posture is also very important, especially for those who spend many hours working in their offices in front of their computers. For this purpose, a good chair with back support, a good working table, a proper position of the computer screen, mouse and keyboard, as well as taking a break are very important when dealing with tension neck syndrome and preventing tension neck syndrome from occurring in the first place.