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Neck Pain Causes: 7 Reasons Your Neck Hurts

Woke up with a stiff neck? These surprising factors may be responsible.

man texting on smartphone, headphones around neckiStock/MachineHeadz

You’re a textaholic

Bad posture is one of the leading causes of neck pain. The more time you spend with your head pulled forward or down—the very position your neck takes when you’re glued to your phone—means more work for the vertebrae of the lower neck. This also stresses the muscles of the upper back as they balance out the movement of your head. And that’s led to the idea of “text neck.” “Text neck is a problem because it keeps your neck in a long flexed period of time, which stresses out the muscles and the joints of the neck making us predisposed to premature arthritis and possibly nerve irritation,” says Gary Olson, a chiropractor in Commack, New York. “This could also eventually cause muscle spasm. It has an effect on your eyesight by causing your eyes to concentrate for long periods of time. People are developing eye problems as well as carpal tunnel and tendonitis in your hands from excessive texting.”

Try to keep your phone as close to eye level as possible to avoid this neck strain—even lying down while you’re texting could help. The same goes for desk jockeys: When sitting at your desk, look straight ahead. Your eyes should stare at the top of your computer screen. If you need more leverage, use a few hardcover books to make your screen sit higher than you. And make sure that you take frequent breaks to give your neck some time to recover.

man at desk with computer and work, fingers on headiStock/PeopleImages

You’re super stressed

Stress is a pain in the neck. Muscle tension is one of your body’s default reactions to everyday stressors—and Olson says that it can make you pull your shoulders up, causing muscle tightness and headaches. Sharpen your awareness of how stress is affecting you and take measures to relax—for the sake of your neck (if not your sanity). Take up a yoga class or practice meditation. Inhale positivity and exhale stress. If yoga isn’t your thing, try these other great ways to de-stress.

man smoking cigaretteiStock/Juanmonino

You’re still smoking

If your neck is giving you problems, consider this one more reason (among too many to count) to quit smoking. Smoking accelerates degenerative disc disease. Chemicals in cigarettes harden your arteries and decrease blood supply to bones and muscles, which starves them from nutrients. And the way most people smoke can even cause neck pain. “People usually lean their head back when smoking,” Olson says.

awake woman on side in bed next to a maniStock/monkeybusinessimages

You slept funny

It happens to everyone—but especially to stomach sleepers, according to Harvard Medical School. Sleeping on your side or back, using a smaller, less firm pillow to allow your neck to rest in a more neutral position, and using a horseshoe-shaped travel pillow when you’re dozing on a plane or even in front of the TV can help you avoid waking up with a crick in your neck. If you do wake up in pain, try these remedies for a stiff neck.

woman lifting barbell with heavy weightsiStock/pixdeluxe

You’re hitting it hard at the gym

Poor posture—failing to keep your chin and spine in a neutral position—is the most common cause of neck pain post-exercise, according to Harvard Medical School. Generally, keeping your chin down, rather than jutting it forward, can help you keep the neutral position you need to avoid pain.

large yellow purseiStock/Ababsolutum

You pack your life in your purse

Women are more likely than men to have chronic neck pain, according to Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care—and one in three end up with neck pain annually. A likely cause? Their purses. Most women don’t realize the toll their filled-to-the-brim purses have on shoulder and neck muscles. “People who wear purses tend to wear them on one side, so it pulls on the shoulder causing it to slope,” Olson says. “You should keep as little as possible in your purse and switch sides frequently.” Lighten your load with these spine-saving tips for downsizing your bag.

woman blowing a chewing gum bubbleiStock/wundervisuals

You’re a serial gum chewer

While blowing bubbles might relieve stress, constant strenuous jaw movement can lead to neck pain and headaches. Gum chewing causes stress to the area where the jaw meets the skull and can strain the muscles in your head and neck. The simple solution, if you develop this pain? “Try cutting down to see if it helps,” Olson says.

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Medically reviewed by Jill Silverman, MD, on October 09, 2019