After a long day of work or after a particularly stressful period, you may feel your muscles, especially those in your neck, tense up. Neck pain is most frequently the result of muscle strain from poor posture or overuse, but sometimes it may be indicative of a more serious injury like whiplash.
Your neck is an extension of your spine, stretching from the skull to the upper torso. It includes cervical discs that help cushion and absorb shock between the bones. The interplay of the vertebrae (spine bones) and the neck components (including the bones, ligaments, and muscle) support our head and facilitate any motion; thus injury or inflammation can cause neck pain as a symptom of damage.
Increasing your intake of magnesium may help prevent these symptoms. Whilst magnesium is more commonly used as an antacid or a bowel reliever, it is also able to support muscle health and function.
How does magnesium affect neck pain?
The causes and symptoms of neck pain can range in type, severity, and duration. Neck pain is typically acute and lasts for a couple of days to a week, but in some cases, it may become chronic. Symptoms of neck pain may include:
- Stiff neck leading to a decreased range of motion
- Sharp pain localised in one area
- Muscle spasms
- Pain upon movement
- Radiating pain or numbness
- Headaches or migraines
Whilst these symptoms might not persist for a prolonged duration, sometimes they can be a consequence of nerve compression and therefore you may feel numbness or tingling in your arms or hands. It is advised to speak to a doctor if you experience these symptoms.
Your doctor may perform a physical exam and suggest several treatments to combat neck pain, for example, pain medication and corticosteroid injections may be given in addition to exercise and physical therapy. In addition, muscle relaxant medication may be advised especially if you experience muscle spasms. These muscle spasms are common in people with acute neck and back pain, and rest is usually advised to counteract this. Whilst rest is probably the best relaxant, magnesium supplements may also be able to alleviate some of these symptoms.
Magnesium is an essential molecule with a potent role in facilitating over 300 enzyme reactions. Enzymes are proteins in our body that speed up chemical responses in cells such as digestion, blood sugar levels and liver function. The benefits of magnesium are multifaceted in the ways it can help alleviate neck pain.1 Magnesium intake can also improve your mood, regulate stress and manage anxiety which would minimise the overall mental triggers that may cause muscle tension.2
Adequate magnesium levels allow our muscles to relax after contraction. Studies show that when we strenuously overuse our muscles, we can alter the calcium levels in our bodies. Whilst calcium is beneficial for bone health, it can also attach to specific proteins (troponin) in muscles to change their shape and cause over-contraction, leading to spasms or twitches. However, magnesium supplementation means it can bind to these proteins instead of the calcium, and help our muscles to relax. The benefit of magnesium is that it helps to regulate muscle spasms and contractions to allow the muscles to relax, as well as exert its anti-nociceptive (pain-relieving) effects on the nervous system.3
Also, supplementing with magnesium can lower inflammation in your body, making it a great supplement to reduce neck pain. Studies have demonstrated that adults who get less than the recommended amount of magnesium are more likely to have elevated inflammation markers, which in turn have been associated with major health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.4 Lowering inflammation also reduces the risk of developing osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis (RA), as patients with more magnesium in their diets were less likely to develop RA.5
Which magnesium is best for neck pain?
The first use of magnesium in medicine dates back to the 17th century. Epsom salts, with their major ingredient being magnesium sulphate, were used to treat conditions such as abdominal pain, constipation and muscle strains. In modern medicine, magnesium is also broadly used for the prophylaxis (prevention) and treatment of pain.6 Magnesium ions prevent calcium from entering our cells by blocking N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptors, which are in our nervous system and enable us to feel pain.
Magnesium is important for supporting nerve and muscle function. The recommended daily amount (RDA) for magnesium is often attainable through dietary management and can be found in a variety of foods including:
- Legumes (e.g. lentils, chickpeas and peas)
- Nuts and seeds (e.g. flaxseeds and pumpkin seeds)
- Spinach and leafy greens
- Dairy products (e.g. yoghurt and milk)
- Dark chocolate
However, if you are still looking to increase your magnesium intake, supplements are available to take and are available in many forms but differ in absorption rates. The most common ones are:
- Magnesium oxide
- Magnesium citrate
- Magnesium sulfate
- Magnesium glycinate
- Magnesium chloride
- Magnesium gluconate
Supplementing transdermal (absorbed through the skin) magnesium for muscle spasms such as bath salts or magnesium oils can limit tension by helping muscles to contract and relax. Applying magnesium oil directly onto the skin is thought to provide instant relief. Magnesium application directly on the painful area allows the mineral to enter the bloodstream immediately and increase magnesium levels faster and more efficiently.
Whilst it is recommended to obtain magnesium through your diet, it is thought that magnesium citrate is a good well-rounded form of magnesium for general wellbeing to calm the nervous system and muscle cramps. However, it is essential to identify what the initial cause of your neck pain might be, as it could be a result of mental stress, physical strain, posture, traumatic injury, or even underlying health conditions.
How much magnesium should I take for neck pain?
The amount of magnesium one requires depends on age and sex, with NHS guidelines suggesting that men should aim to consume 300mg and women 270mg of magnesium per day.7
The essential vitamins and minerals do not always act alone but rather work in synergy to maintain a healthy body. For example, the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D, can improve our body’s ability to absorb magnesium. Studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency can worsen neck pain and muscle spasms.7 Furthermore, supplementing magnesium with vitamin C may also be beneficial as vitamin C is a potent antioxidant, and its dual properties with magnesium show additive effects to alleviate pain and osteoarthritis.8
Side effects and other concerns
Most people who take magnesium supplements don’t experience any side effects, but over-supplementation with magnesium can be toxic and cause more serious side effects, such as:
- Mild diarrhoea
- Abdominal pain
It is important to note that magnesium supplements may also interact with certain medications, like antibiotics or diuretics, to make them less effective. The risk of magnesium toxicity is particularly higher in people with kidney problems and thus caution should be taken when taking supplements.
Equally, low magnesium levels may exacerbate or induce other undesirable complications such as migraines, osteoporosis, diabetes and even heart disease.9 Therefore, it is essential that you have enough magnesium either through diet or supplementation. If neck pain persists beyond a few weeks or it is getting worse, medical help from your doctor is advised.
Magnesium plays a crucial part in relaxing the muscles and enabling them to function normally. Its ability to reduce inflammation in our body is also of particular importance since it can impede the onset of many chronic diseases. We can obtain magnesium by maintaining a healthy diet, taking oral supplements or soaking in some Epsom salts. The pain-relieving effects of magnesium can be attributed to its blockade of NMDA receptors and preventing the onset of pain, as well as alleviating the tension in our muscles.
- Mathew AA, Panonnummal R. ‘Magnesium’-the master cation-as a drug—possibilities and evidences. BioMetals. 2021 Oct 1;34(5):955–86.
- Boyle NB, Lawton C, Dye L. The Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Subjective Anxiety and Stress—A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2017 Apr 26;9(5):429.
- Potter JD, Robertson SP, Johnson JD. Magnesium and the regulation of muscle contraction. Fed Proc. 1981 Oct;40(12):2653–6.
- Nielsen FH. Magnesium deficiency and increased inflammation: current perspectives. J Inflamm Res. 2018 Jan 18;11:25–34.
- Hu C, Zhu F, Liu L, Zhang M, Chen G. Relationship between dietary magnesium intake and rheumatoid arthritis in US women: a cross-sectional study. BMJ Open. 2020 Nov 1;10(11):e039640.
- Shin HJ, Na HS, Do SH. Magnesium and Pain. Nutrients. 2020 Jul 23;12(8):2184.
- Cai C. Treating Vitamin D Deficiency and Insufficiency in Chronic Neck and Back Pain and Muscle Spasm: A Case Series. Perm J. 2019 Aug 8;23:18–241.
- Yao H, Xu J, Wang J, Zhang Y, Zheng N, Yue J, et al. Combination of magnesium ions and vitamin C alleviates synovitis and osteophyte formation in osteoarthritis of mice. Bioact Mater. 2021 May 1;6(5):1341–52.
- Gröber U, Schmidt J, Kisters K. Magnesium in Prevention and Therapy. Nutrients. 2015 Sep 23;7(9):8199–226.