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Tension Neck Syndrome: Types, Causes and Symptoms

Medically reviewed by Kristina Campos, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Nikita Bhalla · Updated Jun 15, 2022

    Tension Neck Syndrome: Types, Causes and Symptoms

    For those with tension neck syndrome, the symptoms are not restricted to pain in the neck, as the name of the health condition implies. This means that the symptoms are not localized. It is spread over the adjoining parts of the body like the head and the surrounding muscles, joints, and nerves.

    Our sedentary lifestyles have made us susceptible to the risks of these health disorders, which have been increasing. By modern lifestyle habits, we mean long working hours spent fixated on the computer screen, without breaks in between. Beyond work, too, a regular workout routine is a rare practice. What’s more, you again have the same posture while driving to and from work.

    Andrew Bang, a chiropractor at the Cleveland Clinic, sums up the root causes of disorders like tension neck syndrome in a few words, “A stiff neck typically is the result of muscles weakening over time from poor posture or misuse.” To elaborate, he mentions, “When your neck muscles become weak and you try to turn your head, the joint no longer moves smoothly because it’s now out of place.”

    Often the joint catches on something, either pulling a muscle or hitting the nerve irregularly, or maybe both. Then you’ll have instant pain and your body has a protective spasm. Your body doesn’t want you to get hurt more, so it will clench, causing you to feel like you can’t even move — and leaving you wondering what you did to injure yourself.”

    Types of Pain Due to Tension Neck Syndrome and Other Disorders

    The pain for such disorder is usually classified into the following types, according to its severity:

    Minor pain

    Here, the pain will be a worrying pain that can be felt for a few seconds or a few minutes. Not paying serious attention to it and continuing with a lack of frequent breaks between work will gradually aggravate the symptoms. It may gradually become chronic pain and also spread to other parts of the body.

    Acute pain

    This pain develops as a result of an injury, to the neck or back. It may also lead to pain in the neck, head, muscles, and nerves, and muscle spasms. This pain is less severe than chronic pain and usually does not stay for more than six weeks.

    Chronic pain

    This stays much longer than acute pain, usually for three months or even longer. The pain may set in gradually or quickly. It is not as common as acute pain.

    Causes of Tension Neck Syndrome and Other Related Disorders

    Below are the most prominent causes of such disorders:

    Muscle pain

    Muscle pain and soreness of the neck and shoulders are evident side-effects of over-exertion due to long, strenuous hours at work. Stress isn’t just a state of our minds, it extends way beyond it and is multi-faceted.

    No wonder, physical stress has become a part and parcel of our daily lives. A lack of regular fitness activities does not help the situation either. Gradually, hard knots develop in the neck muscles, creating trigger points or knots that are sensitive to touch.

    Muscle spasm

    You will know you have muscle spasms when you suddenly have a stiff neck, making it difficult for you to turn your head. This will possibly be accompanied by pain. A muscle injury, a nerve problem, spinal disc, or even emotional stress may lead to a spasm. However, there is no conclusive research to prove the actual cause behind muscle spasms. 


    Muscle spasms and stress may further have other side-effects in the form of headaches at the upper part or back of the neck. There might also be tenderness of the neck, making it a challenge to move your neck. 

    Facet joint pain

    This pain in the facet joints, a part of your neck’s vertebrae, becomes sharp and often gets aggravated when you tilt your neck towards the affected side.

    This pain may spread towards your shoulders and upper back as well. In severe conditions, it may lead to arthritis in the facet joints and other body parts, worsening the condition due to lack of a fitness routine. The pain is usually the sharpest when you wake up in the morning.

    Nerve pain

    This pain affects the roots of the spinal cord, creating a pinching sensation at the roots. The intensity of the pain varies greatly right from a fleeting one to severe. It might also feel as if the affected location is being pricked with pins and needles. The pain may spread to a hand or arm, depending on the nerve that has been affected.

    Bone pain

    Pain in the bone of the cerebral vertebrae occurs in rare instances as compared to neck pain. In case you have bone pain, it needs immediate medical attention because it might be the cause of an underlying medical condition or may eventually lead to a serious health condition.

    Referred pain

    A health condition that develops as a result of an underlying condition in another part of the body is referred to as referred pain. For instance, neck pain may be the symptom of a health condition of the heart. It may also lead to a loss of bladder control, indicating serious medical conditions. 

    Symptoms of Tension Neck Syndrome and Other Related Disorders

    The usual symptoms of such disorders are as below:

    • Tingling, dull sensation or sharp and severe pain in the neck, shoulders, or back or lower part of the head; 
    • The pain might be localized, that is, restricted to the area that has been affected. It may also spread to other parts of the body, depending on the nerve or the muscle that has been affected. It may spread to the arms and even the hands;
    • Tingling sensation or numbness of the arms;
    • Pain in the shoulders;
    • Headaches across different parts of the head;
    • Stiffness along the spinal cord;
    • Tingling sensation above or below the knee;
    • Numbness of the leg;
    • Prolonged pain in the middle or lower back, specifically after sitting or standing for a long span of time;
    • Severe, shooting pain that spreads from the lower pain to the buttocks and gradually downwards towards your thighs, calves and toes;
    • In severe conditions, neck and muscle pain may be accompanied by symptoms like loss of bladder and bowel control, as we discussed earlier in the article.

    Learn more about managing musculoskeletal pain, here.


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Kristina Campos, MD

    General Practitioner

    Written by Nikita Bhalla · Updated Jun 15, 2022

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