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Date of last update: 8/24/2017.

Forum Name: Psychiatric Topics

Question: Can neck injury cause anxiety symptoms?

 Andrew - Sun Feb 06, 2005 3:08 pm

In 1999, while lifting weights, I injured my neck/upper back and since then, I've had very strange sypmtoms. The symptoms are very similar to generalized anxiety. When I do something to aggrivate my neck (outdoor running, lifting, etc.) I get pain and anxious feelings (like I've had too much coffee). I've tried to explain that the symptoms are always worse when my neck hurts, but I've been told that anxiety and stress are causing the neck muscles to tense up, thus causing the old neck injury to "flare up". I seem to caught in a bad cycle. Is it anxiety that causes my neck pain, or my neck injury causing my anxiety symptoms?

Two years ago, my doctor put me on Zoloft and it seemed to get better, but during that time, I also stopped working out completely and the anxiety symptoms subsided. Then I decided to go off the meds AND at the same time I started running outside again. About 6 months after stopping the medication, I started having neck pain and tightness first, then about a month later I started getting the anxiety feelings again. So, I decided to tell my doctor what was going on. He suggested an MRI of my neck, which showed a bulging disc between C6 & C7. He gave me an anti-inflamitory, but that only took the edge off and did not releave the anxiety.

So, I stared back on the SSRI and again stopped excercising and a month or two later I started feeling better. For several months my neck and anxiety were great. But about a month ago, I started aerobic exercise and now the neck pain and anxiety is back, even on the SSRI, but not as severe as before. What is going on????

I guess the real question is, "can a neck injury and bulging disc be causing anxiety symptoms"? What do you think I should do to figure i :?: t out for sure?
 Kathy C, RN - Sun Feb 06, 2005 3:23 pm

Hi Andrew, You may be right on both counts. Pain can cause anxiety and anxiety can worsen symptoms of pain. Even the anticipation of having pain can cause anxiety. Did the physician say that your injury to your neck would be helped by surgery? Did he suggest which excercises to avoid? It seems to me that if you have an injury like you described that fixing it may be good idea. From what you said excercises causes the pain to return and also the anxiety. Rather than avoid excercise to avoid pain and anxiety look into a remedy for your injury.
 Andrew - Tue Feb 08, 2005 10:58 pm

Thanks for the reply. Actually, the doctor said that based on my age and the relatively mild severity of the disc herniation, he doesn't suggest surgery at this point. The pain is really not so bad as it would cause me undue anxiety. What I'm curious about is, can an injury in the spinal cord cause irritated CNS that controls anxiety (adrenaline release) or "fight or flight" responses?

There's no doubt that I need to address anxiety in my life anyway, and I'm currently doing some stabilizing exercises that I learned, but never attempted, from a Physical Therapist.

Really curious about the CNS issue.
 Kathy C, RN - Thu Feb 10, 2005 7:21 pm

H ANdrew, That question is not one that I can answer. Perhaps a neurologist can help more? I wish you well...
 didubz - Sat Mar 19, 2005 1:03 pm

:!: Actually, this is strange because I do believe this can cause anxiety, I had a bad baseball accident when I was around 15 years old, I was playing shortstop and collided with the left fielder on a iffy flyball...since then I have always had neck problems...I am 23 now and it seems as if things are getting worse, One night I was thinking so deep about what was wrong with my neck, give or take the same day I had went to the chiropractor for x rays, he said my neck was suppose to have a sway in it, starting out from the back region, and coming back out toward the head, well my neck was going out in the same cervical region as yours that it was not suppose to....This news brought more anxiety, which they call floating anxiety have no reason, or understanding why I have it....Tryed the books, the remedys, but nothing has helped....I am always thinking whats wrong, heck maybe we can work together on this to see if their is a relation with anxiety and neck problems, my symptoms include

Constant thinking
constant pain,
unreal feelings/totall numbness of other parts of my body
can't sit still
back pains, a ringing of the ears like a hissing noise
constant cracking in my neck
lack of concentration
its crazy, I'll get back to you on somethings, post some more, yeah its sorta scary,
I try not to worry about it, but its tough,,,

Doug,,, thats my music site....
 gddk - Wed Apr 27, 2005 5:38 pm

I saw your post and thought I would toss out my experience. Yes, your injury may cause anxiety. I broke my c-7 about 20 months ago and didn't need surgury. Your experiences were simular to mine. I would try to run and after the second run I would feel an anxious feeling traveling up my neck. It would come and go one week I would be ok and the next I would be riding my car over a dirt road and I would start feeling just utterly terrible. I saw many doctors and they all thought it was in my head. I went to a theropist and she believes that a good deal of the issue is yet to be identified. They ruled me out for panic disorders because the anxiety last for over a day and into a few days. I really feel that somehow the nerves being pinched or twisted can create an anxious feeling. It can be very difficult to get thru. I am doing better now: I am just learning to live with it, but it still bothers me. The worst thing is that all the doctors I have seen even some really good ones in Newport Beach California just dismiss me and really try to sweep me out the door. That in it self has created problems.

 blc43519 - Mon Aug 08, 2005 10:51 pm

I've been to doctors, and most of them were just going through the motions, check blood pressure, take ur blood, urine samples etc. I went to a doctor for my shoulder problem that I've had for a while, this shoulder problem I must have injured it while working out, a pinched nerve of some sort. I had shoulder pain after waking up or sleeping on it for a while, but that has now subsided. As of now my shoulder is weak and has lack of mobility. This doctor said I had winging of the scapulae, which didn't satisfy because in the original diagnosis it sounded like it was unclear what I had. He said I could do nothing of it, and just let it get better by itself, which is also untrue because I looked it up and it said you can have surgery to correct it. As for the anxiety part of it, just recently I've had anxiety, I've had times where I've had anxiety attacks and the such. But sometimes just generalized anxiety or tension in my neck that gets relieved whenever I crack it. I also have clicks in my neck, whenever my anxiety builds up.
 aerobic - Sun Nov 20, 2005 9:37 am

I try to laugh about this but it does nag..... Hi - I have neck clicks and grinds which can be so noisey sometimes others can hear. Also I have a tightness in the throat which makes swallowing weird - does anyone else have this. Also popping and a feeling of blockness in the ear - had whip lash many years ago - this problem seems to be on that side - is it nerve related - the doc which I have recently seen was not too helpful - suggested another x-ray - on my last one I was told I have an extra rib in the neck with spurs. :lol:

Thank you for your time.
 blc43519 - Sun Nov 20, 2005 2:49 pm

I've had tightness in throat sometimes.
 sdfirenze - Sun Nov 20, 2005 6:29 pm

Hi Andrew,

I would suggest seeing a neurologist. Often times anxiety symptoms can be the result of physical problems. However, if medical examinations do not yeild anything informative, I would suggest consulting with a therapist. If the anxiety does not appear to be medically based, therapy will likely be the most helpful course. Despite all the television commercials, medications such as Zoloft are only mildly helpful. Studies have shown that therapy is actually more effective than medications for treating anxiety disorders.

The fact that your symptoms appear to be directly related to the act of working out suggests that you might have developed a form of phobia, which would be understandable after an injury. I suggest talking this out with a good therapist to see if you can get over your current difficulties.

Good luck
 Anonymous - Fri Dec 02, 2005 1:40 am

Hello Andrew,

I have been searching the internet for months trying to figure out what is wrong with my back and the weird anxiety symptomst hat come with it.. I get clenched teeth and jaw and have a sort of anxiety and pain that I cannot even describe.. but it sounds exactly like what you have described the fight or flight adrenaline.. I'm having a real hard focusing at work and my productivity has dropped close to zero.

Please email me if possible and let me know if you received any additional information or remedy.

Thank you!
 blc43519 - Fri Dec 02, 2005 8:16 pm

magnesium is good for back and neck pain.
 pinkeetoz - Mon Jan 30, 2006 6:26 pm

In December I went snow skiing and had a couple of falls. Noticed the day that we were to leave that my left buttocks cheek was hurting, couple of days later had lower back pain, spasms going down my left leg. Went to Doc and he said I had sciatica. (He did send me to get x-rays which came back negative) About a week later my upper back, between my shoulder blades, started feeling tight and had a burning sensation. Had my husband rub in that area and he said I had "stress bumps". Now I have some tingling and numbness in my left arm and in the last two fingers on my hand. Still some lower back pain, no more spasms or pain down leg. My biggest thing is the anxiety. I mean, really bad anxiety. Have been given xanax to take during the day along with clonazapam to take at night. Will be seeing an orthopedic surgeon tommorrow. After reading the other posts I'm almost convinced that the anxiety is from this injury. Any of you previous posters find out anything else, any new information?
 kingkaractakas - Tue Feb 14, 2006 7:58 am

gday, i too have had several injuries to my neck and back over the last 10 12 yrs due to alot of heavy contact sport and alot of labour intensive work, my first case of anxiety came after a few large events in my life but also around the same time(10days) as i was knocked out playing sport from a heavy collision. i had what i believe to be a bit of concussion and a sore neck, but life must go on and i continued to work in my laboring job 2 days later. i grew more sore and also very lethargic and moody so i went to a chiropractor and had a few things re-alligned in my neck, thorasic and pelvic areas. it was the next day as i lay down on the couch i felt a feeling like an electric shock and then an awful feeling of dread swept over me and a sense of "unrealness" (bloody frightning) since that day on i have had trouble with anxiety attacks, depression and over thinking on and off. i strongly believe that these things are triggered by physical elements. when my body is not sore or aching i find that i can cope with all of lifes little things but as soon as my body feels ordinary i seem to crumble and get stuck on a cycle of anxiety and over thinking. which makes it worse, i have alprazolam to combat the anxiety and panic but they render me useless for hours which doesn't help with work. any advice?
 Pej - Wed Dec 16, 2009 3:43 pm

Wow all of you have talked about symptoms that I actually have and I am slowly coming to the realization that it must be related to my neck problems.
I don't really know how I injured it, maybe from all the weight lifting or possibly from a scrap I got myself into about 2 years ago.
My neck is stiff a lot of times and it feels like a band all the way to my forehead, it feels tense and gives me headaches and makes me feel stiff in the neck. This is accompanied by ringing in the ear, anxiety, tired feeling, trouble swallowing and having a weird feeling about my breathing as well. Like I can't breathe properly in a relaxed way and I think about it a lot.

The problem is that everyone's post I have read talks about anti anxiety medication which is just gonna be a temporary fix. I know that my problem is most likely from the 2 discs in my neck(for which I had Xrays taken) which apparently have arthritic wear on them. And I can feel the spot where the pain comes from in my neck.

It has really messed me up because I cannot focus sometimes, get all panicy, I even wake up sometimes in the middle of the night thinking that I can't breathe and I panic.

If anyone has any other solutions or ideas that might help fix this problem permanently or long term(not anxiety medication) PLEASE post it on here as I am willing to try many things.
For now I got myself an appointment with a homeopathic clinic to see what they will say. And I also just started taking magnesium to see if that will help any at all.

 jimmyaust - Mon Mar 01, 2010 10:04 pm

two years ago i had a hernated disc in my neck now i suffer anxity attack panic,social and other. before the injury i was fine. very strange
 Faye Lang, RN, MSW - Thu Jul 15, 2010 6:31 pm

Hello andrew and everyone,

It seems to be pretty well established by all of these responses that pain and anxiety can be very much related. Regarding the CNS "fight or flight" question, the answer is yes and no. Pain and/or anxiety can create a hypersensitive state, so that the fight or flight reflex is more easily triggered. Or, it can cause a more sluggish reflexive response. While this seems contradictory, it really isn't - it all depends on the individual's neurological and psychological status. Whether the situation is acute or chronic, it's always helpful to maintain a detailed record of all symptoms, to help the doctor see any diagnostic patterns. A complete physical examination, a neurological examination and a psychological evaluation can all be helpful - and a person experiencing a distressing level of pain can use all the help he or she can get. If nothing seems to be helping and the diagnosis remains unclear, seeing a physiatrist (medical doctor specializing in physical medicine) can be very helpful. Good luck to all of you!
 Elf - Tue Jul 20, 2010 4:54 am

Yesterday I came across this thread and want to share my own experience. I was beaten up - punched in the head twice 30 years ago by a drunk angry man whose fist was the size of my female head. This caused whiplash injury. I was very bruised right down to my waist and finger tips but lived. I had jaw problems etc but five years later awoke with a stiff neck that never went away. I wore a neck collar on and off for a year and had a sort of nervous breakdown - developing panic attacks and symptoms that mimicked hypoglyceamia. Dread - a fear of something terrible happening, depression and anxiety. I went to the doctors who told me there was nothing physically wrong with me - implying it was emotional or psychological. I knew there was something terribly wrong and that it was physiologicaI but I didn't know what and neither did he. I suffered constant pain and stiffness. After a few years of playing a wide-bodied guitar I developed right shoulder ache/pain as well as the neck pain and the veins in my arm are swollen/distended and my arm and hand ache all the time. Occasionally I have a little respite on days and nights whenit is not too bad. Ice on the offending vertebra helps. After fourteen years of feelings of bewilderment, desperation and a fear of going mad and of being different and having no medical back-up for my strange symptoms I read a book called The Back and Beyond by Dr. Paul Sherwood who is a Harley Street Specialist in London now in his eighties. I highly reccommend you read it. He explains that an injury to the neck or spine can cause facet joints to become permanently inflamed and swollen either immediately following injury or even some years afterwards, after degeneration. Basically upon injury the tissue swells to protect the spinal column/canal so you don't die or become crippled, unfortunately sometimes the body does not know when to stop the inflammatory response and can continue indefinitely without treatment. The swollen facet joints can impair the flow of nerve impulses from the brain and the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous chain can become impaired. So, for example the sub-conscious urge to breathe can become impaired causing a person to become very aware of their breathing and over-breathe. This is because they are doing something consciously which is normally automatic. This can lead to painc attack feelings and spaciness because one has too much carbon dioxide in circulation. So one lives as I have done gasping for breath and feeling dizzy and frightened - ofcourse one does not feel like socialising under these conditions and it has circumscribed my life hugely. I underwent treatment at his clinic but sadly I was one of the few who did not recover. Many have been helped by him but I was one of the small percentage for whom his manipulation and faradic stimulation and massage protocols did not help. I have tried to live my life despite the constant debilitating symptoms - I made a contraption to help give my neck traction at home and this helped me get by and have some respite from the symptoms. I tried many modalities but nothing has cured me. Still I have lived in hope that if I lived long enough someone would come up with a cure for me. Yesterday, determined to get better I spent the day on the net - my investigative journalist skills from my youth paid off. I am set to have an upright MRI in a few weeks to show what I already know which is that my 4th and 5th vertebra are damaged from being punched and the facet joints are swollen and impinging the neural canal and blood flow and nerves. I had a major car crash almost 15months ago and was cut out of my car with a broken sternum so I have claustraphobia getting into a tunnel MRI, But thank goodness someone has come up with the intelligent invention of a stand-up MRI machine which is not only more humane but also allows for normal gravity on the spine rather than the supine position which can give a false imaging. I also came across a potential cure for this injury. It is called Accu-spine Therapy developed in North America. Intevertebral Differential Dynamics Therapy which is a machine that with a computerised technology gives traction to the injured vertebrae and allows the blood to flow properly to heal the joints etc. The normal protocol is 20 visits over 6-10 weeks. So I hold out hope that I have finally found a potential cure for my living hell. I missed out on so much because of my injury but I suppose for me I am lucky to be alive - for I have tried to turn my adversity to good use. It has made me more compassionate and put me on a path of spiritual enquiry. So I concurr with Shakespeare that God turns all bad to good. I hope this blog which is my first may be of use to anyone suffering the 'strange' symptoms after a neck and back injury - they are not actually strange at all when you understant what is going on! Good luck and God Bless
 Faye Lang, RN, MSW - Tue Jul 20, 2010 8:48 pm

Hello, elf,

Thank you for sharing your comprehensive information about your injury and treatment. You raise an excellent point about having "standing MRI"s. The resources you've named can be useful to many of the readers, and I thank you on their behalf. Successful treatment still involves going through the process of elimination with orthopedists, neurologists, psychologists or psychiatrists, physiatrists, etc., but your information can help others organize their thoughts and proceed from there.

Good luck!
 ukmanc - Sun Jul 25, 2010 6:06 am

Hey guys, I thought I would post a reply after reading this post. Some of the symptoms described here are just like the ones I have. I get nervous and feel like my heart and my mind are both racing. I find it happens mainly late at night just before I go to bed or once I am in bed, which stops me sleeping. This usually results in me watching TV in to the early hours to ttry and calm down. About 2 years ago whilst working in a basement, I was walking under a beam, bening down with my hard hat on. Unfortunately I was not bending down enough and walked into the beam, jarring my neck. For about a week after the accident I felt very distant and unable to focus on anything for too long. I felt very tired and like my neck muscles were very tight and wanted someone to pull my head as to stretch my neck. I was sat down and movinng my head from side to side as to stretch my neck muscles when my neck cracked very loudly and sent a strange wave through my body, but straight away I felt a huge improvement. It was suggested to me that I should visit a chiropractor, who sent me for X-rays, and confirmed I had damaged my neck and that the curve in my neck was not correct.

I attended the chiropractor for a couple of months after the first visit, and every thing improved. I thought I was cured.

Now 18 months on I have started heving chiropractic treatment again as my stiff neck has come back, and I am having these panic attack like symptoms, at times questioning the state of my mind.

I am somewhat relieved to find other people have similar experiances and I am not alone and possibly not going mad.

I think stress plays a large part of what is happening to me, as my family are away for three months and my job can be quite stressful at times, as I have just been promoted at work and am looking after a million dollar project, the largest my company has.

I recently went for a back massage to try to relieve some of the tension and was told I have the tightest back she had ever seen. So I will be going for more massages and trying some other relaxing techniques.

I guess this gives no answers but I think every case is probably different in its own way, and we will each find out what works best, but I do thank everybody who has posted here and I hope my post can help in some way.

 quattro - Sun Jul 25, 2010 12:00 pm

hi, i m from malta, i would like to share my symptoms of what i think is whiplash injury. about 5 weeks ago i went karting, and a freind of mine hit me real hard at the back, my head tilted in a way that i couldn t imagine that it was capable of doing that degree of tilt!, i kept riding, but as we stopped i just couldn t eat. thinking i was exhausted or something, i didn t think of it. the day after i woke up with a little stiff neck, still oudn t swallow though. i tought it was acid reflux or something related to the stomach. i also was (am still) feeling anxious , irritable and sometimes depressed. after 4 weeks taking antacids (zantac) while i was watching tv i remembered the back hit at the go carts track. so i started searching the net on more info. tomorow i m going to do more tests related with whiplash. hopefully i ll get results. sometimes i get really worried, about not knowing exactly what i have. anyway, i m glad i joined this forum, its very informative.
 Faye Lang, RN, MSW - Mon Jul 26, 2010 1:11 pm

Hi Everyone,

Thanks so much for sharing all of your experiences, which continue to confirm that the human nervous system is a wondrous thing. The nervous system is throughout the body, so that any impairment is likely to cause reactions such as you have all described. The most difficult part is to find the best treatment, since not just one approach will be effective for every impairment. Believe in yourselves and continue to seek relief, and talk with your doctors. Keeping a record of your symptoms including date, times, duration, what helped, etc., can help your doctor identify any patterns and help in making treatment decisions.

Good luck to you all.

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