Why does your neck hurt when you eat?
Some people experience neck pain (cervical pain) after eating. The most common cause is eating unhealthy food, but food allergy and certain conditions might also cause pain.
These are the most common conditions that can cause neck pain after having a meal:
- food allergy
- acid reflux
- heart problems
- problems in the digestive tract
In most cases, neck pain after having a meal is usually a referred pain (i.e. the location of the pain is not the same as the location of the underlying health issue). It might be the stomach, heart, chest, or esophagus that causes the problem and the pain radiates into the neck.
Neck pain and food allergies
Allergies might cause symptoms in your digestive system, but the allergy is not caused by the digestive organs.
We talk about food allergy when the immune system gives an abnormal reaction to certain foods. Swelling and inflammation in various parts of the body is a common symptom of food allergy.
Allergic reactions usually happen shortly after eating. Some possible reasons for neck pain during an allergic reaction:
- Swelling in the respiratory system might cause pain in the back and neck.
- Allergic reactions can cause sinus pressure, resulting in a headache and neck pain.
Sometimes symptoms can be very severe. Shortness of breath, sore throat, and dizziness might indicate anaphylaxis, which requires immediate medical help.
Hives, runny nose, and itchy skin are the typical symptoms of a food allergy.
If you think food allergy is causing your neck pain after eating, visit an allergist and get yourself tested to find out which food(s) you are allergic to!
Neck pain and acid reflux
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians:
An estimated 20 to 60 percent of patients with GERD have head and neck symptoms without any appreciable heartburn.(source)
Since acid reflux and GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) affects about 20% of the people in the US, this means that acid reflux is a common trigger of neck pain after eating.
The absence of heartburn, which is the typical symptom of reflux, makes diagnosis hard. Some other symptoms that might indicate acid reflux caused neck pain:
This condition is also called silent reflux since there is no chest pain or heartburn. Doctors also call it laryngopharyngeal reflux or LPR (larynx – voice box, pharynx – throat), because symptoms are experienced in the throat and not in the esophagus.
Neck pain and the digestive tract
Several medical conditions in the digestive tract might cause eating-related neck ache:
- Stomach ulcers: pain caused by stomach ulcers can radiate into the back and neck.
- Inflamed gallbladder: this condition often causes right shoulder pain, but neck pain is also a possible symptom. Gallbladder issues tend to cause pain in the right side of the neck.
- Pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer: another condition that often causes referred pain in the shoulders and neck. Problems with the pancreas are more likely to trigger left side neck pain.
Neck pain and heart attack
While heart attack after eating is not as common as most people think, it can happen. Studies show that within two hours after a very heavy meal the risk of a heart attack may increase by about four times.
Those who have existing heart problems are more at risk.
Sharp chest pain after eating might indicate an acid reflux episode or a heart attack. If the pain radiates into the left shoulder, left arm, neck, or jaw, you might have a heart attack. This condition requires immediate medical attention!
It’s good to be aware of the common heart attack symptoms, which you can check out at the UCI Health website.
After reviewing the most common eating-related health issues that might cause neck pain, let’s take a closer look at the type of foods that are most likely to trigger neck pain after eating:
Neck pain after eating fatty foods
- If neck pain is accompanied by a sharp stomach pain on the right side, gallbladder problems, maybe pancreatitis might be the culprit. People with these conditions often experience shoulder pain, especially in the right shoulder.
- Sharp chest pain after eating greasy food is never a good sign. Acid reflux is a possible trigger, but if the pain radiates to the neck, it might be a heart attack or angina. When in doubt, always ask for medical help!
Neck pain after eating sugar
Sugary foods can cause:
All of these conditions might trigger stomach or chest pain, which can radiate into the neck.
The exact causes and symptoms are pretty much the same as mentioned above, in the fatty foods section:
- Stomach pain and neck pain often indicates the inflammation of an organ in the digestive tract.
- Chest pain and neck pain might indicate heart problems.
- Shoulder and back pain often occurs together with neck pain.
- It’s usually not the neck where the real problem is, only the pain radiates into the neck from other parts of the body.
Neck pain after eating too much
Too much food in the stomach makes the entire digestive tract work overtime. Your stomach secretes more acid, gas might be produced, the pressure in the stomach increases.
Eating too much makes any of the above-mentioned causes more likely:
- When the stomach is full, stomach acids might flow back into the food pipe, sometimes all the way up to the throat, which might trigger neck pain.
- As mentioned above, a large, heavy meal increases the likelihood of heart problems. Heart pain might radiate into the neck.
- If any of the digestive organs are inflamed, trying to digest a large amount of food might trigger symptoms.
Neck pain after eating fruits or vegetables
Since most fruits and vegetables are easy to digest, an allergic reaction is quite possible in this case. People can be allergic to a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
However, digestive problems or acid reflux might also be the cause:
- Citrus fruits, tomato, and onion are common reflux trigger foods.
- Raw vegetables, coconut milk, and some other fruits might be hard to digest and may cause problems in the digestive tract.
How to relieve neck pain after eating?
Dietary and lifestyle changes can go a long way in relieving eating-related problems:
- eat smaller meals, more frequently
- chew your food well, it helps with digestion
- avoid unhealthy foods, like fatty, fried, sugary foods
- a short walk after eating might make digestion faster
- you might try taking probiotics after eating, like yogurt or buttermilk, this might also help digestion
Neck pain after eating is usually either an allergic reaction or a referred pain. The real problem is often in the chest or stomach and the pain radiates into the neck.
If you are not sure what causes your neck symptoms after a meal, make sure you consult with a doctor.
A sharp stomach or chest pain after eating is never a good sign, and might need immediate medical attention!
Usually, there are certain foods that trigger symptoms. Identifying these foods and avoiding or reducing your consumption might completely eliminate your neck pain after eating.