man experiencing neck and shoulder pain from alcohol

Wondering why your body hurts after a long night of drinking? Alcohol both directly and indirectly affects the body’s musculoskeletal system by increasing inflammation, muscle tension, and dehydration. These effects impact the muscles, bones, and joints, leading to neck and shoulder pain from alcohol consumption.

Understanding the Connection Between Alcohol and Musculoskeletal Pain

The effects of alcohol on the musculoskeletal system, including bones, muscles, and joints, involve both direct and indirect influences. The direct impact of alcohol can cause an inflammatory response in the body, contributing to or exacerbating existing musculoskeletal pain. Chronic alcohol use can cause muscle cramps, weakness, and atrophy. Alcohol’s metabolites have a toxic effect on muscle tissue, leading to poor muscle health and nutritional deficiencies.

Long-term alcohol use can affect bone health, resulting in an increased risk for fractures and osteoporosis. Alcohol disrupts the average balance of calcium and hormone production, contributing to bone growth and replacement.

alcohol and shoulder pain

Alcohol’s Effects on Neck and Shoulder Pain

Alcohol initially acts as a sedative or muscle relaxant even, but the aftereffects, aka “the hangover,” are not as favorable, provoking dehydration, headaches, and muscle aches and tension. Over time, excessive alcohol intake can exacerbate existing neck and shoulder pain or contribute to the onset of it. Alcohol’s effects on the musculoskeletal system, specifically the neck and shoulders, can trigger inflammation, muscle tension, sleep disturbances, nutritional deficiencies, and dehydration.

Muscle Tension and Relaxation

Alcohol’s sedative effects cause the mind and body to feel relaxed, including neck and shoulder muscles. While this initial effect might seem favorable, excessive or chronic alcohol use can increase the tension in these muscles. Muscle tension from excessive alcohol consumption can potentially cause pain and discomfort in the neck and shoulders.

Alcohol Triggering Inflammation

Drinking alcohol triggers inflammation in the body, especially when consuming excessive amounts. Someone who drinks moderately might not experience significant inflammation as someone who engages in heavy and chronic drinking. Heavy alcohol consumption can exacerbate pre-existing inflammatory conditions, potentially affecting the muscles and joints.

Sleep Disturbances and Pain Sensitivity

After a long night of drinking, your usual sleep quality and habits are likely going to be messed up. Heavy alcohol intake impacts the quality of sleep, while poor sleep can increase pain sensitivity, including in the neck and shoulders. Alcohol-related sleep problems can cause poor healing and recovery time for the body and its tissues.

Since alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, it slows down brain activity while also contributing to feelings of relaxation and sleepiness. While in excess, alcohol facilitates poor sleep quality and patterns. Insomnia can lead to poor muscle and tissue recovery, increasing musculoskeletal pain in the neck and shoulders.

woman struggling to sleep from alcohol and muscle pain

Nutritional Deficiencies and Alcohol Use

Excessive alcohol intake can lead to nutritional deficiencies, such as vitamin D and calcium, essential for muscle and bone health. Alcohol disrupts the average balance of hormones, vitamins, and growth factors by affecting the hormones responsible for calcium metabolism.

Vitamin D deficiency from alcohol results in low levels of vitamin D and its related proteins and decreased calcium absorption, increasing the risk of osteoporosis. These vitamin and mineral deficiencies can weaken the bones, limit muscle function, and exacerbate muscle pain in the neck and shoulders.

Dehydration and Muscle Cramps

Alcohol is a diuretic, which helps remove extra fluid and salt from the body, causing the body to urinate more frequently. Diuretics dehydrate you, which is why it’s essential to stay hydrated when drinking alcohol. Once alcohol enters the bloodstream, it can travel anywhere, including your brain and lungs. This is how breathalyzer tests measure the amount of alcohol in your blood or blood alcohol concentration (BAC).

For someone who drinks alcohol excessively, their muscles might become stiff or cramped, also known as alcoholic myopathy. Alcoholic myopathy is a skeletal muscle dysfunction that is incredibly common in individuals with alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Increased Risk of Accidents and Injuries

Alcohol can cloud judgment and impair coordination, especially in excessive amounts. This cognitive impairment can lead individuals to partake in unusual or risky activities, heightening the risk of injuries and accidents.

The lack of coordination while under the influence of alcohol can cause someone to trip, fall, or bump into something easily. These potential accidents and injuries can either cause or contribute to existing pain in the shoulders and neck.

Exacerbating Chronic Pain Conditions

For those with chronic pain conditions, alcohol abuse can significantly exacerbate fibromyalgia, chronic back pain, and rheumatoid arthritis. While some might believe that alcohol will help relieve chronic pain, it can worsen it, especially when combined with pain medications. Using alcohol to relieve physical pain can worsen health conditions and lead to alcohol addiction.

Mixing alcohol and painkillers, such as opioids, acetaminophen, or aspirin, can result in acute liver failure, gastric bleeding, increased sedation, and overdose. Consuming alcohol while taking pain medications can both heighten the side effects of the drug and reduce its efficacy, causing the body to experience more neck and shoulder pain.

people stretching to relieve neck and shoulder pain

Reducing Alcohol Consumption for Bone and Muscle Health

Experiencing musculoskeletal pain, specifically in the neck and shoulders, might call for a health check-up and some lifestyle modifications. Whether you’re a moderate or heavy drinker, alcohol can have a range of direct and indirect effects on your physiological health and quality of life. Visiting a healthcare professional to ensure you don’t have any fractures or injuries is critical for optimal bone and muscle health.

Adopting a healthy lifestyle by reducing alcohol intake, stretching regularly, staying active and hydrated, eating a nutritional diet, and practicing good posture can help manage and prevent muscle and joint pain.

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  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2021. Alcohol’s Effects on Health: Hangovers.
  • Cleveland Clinic, 2021. Musculoskeletal Pain.
  • National Library of Medicine, 2022. Alcohol Consumption, Bone Mineral Density, and Risk of Osteoporotic Fractures: A Dose–Response Meta-Analysis.
  • Sleep Foundation, 2024. Alcohol and Sleep.
  • PubMed Central, 1998. Alcohol’s Harmful Effects on Bone.
  • Cleveland Clinic, 2021. Diuretics.
  • Healthline, 2019. Does Alcohol Dehydrate You?
  • PubMed Central, 2017. Alcoholic Myopathy: Pathophysiologic Mechanisms and Clinical Implications.
  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2021. Using Alcohol to Relieve Your Pain: What Are the Risks?