Why a sudden aversion to being touched on the neck?
October 29, 2007 7:49 PM   Subscribe

Why have I recently developed an aversion to having my neck and shoulders touched? It feels like it's going to hurt a lot when any of my family goes to even touch my shoulders or neck, even though it doesn't actually hurt at all. There is no actual different sensation than you'd normally expect, but I can no longer bear to be touched on my shoulders or neck without exerting a great deal of willpower. I can't help wincing as they go to touch my neck and shoulders, despite my own wishes. It's a bit easier, but not much easier, once the touching has actually started. This upsets my family, and me too, since we're a loving family. Even though the sensations are normal skin sensations, the only way to describe what I feel in my neck and shoulders when touched is "pain that isn't painful".
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
IANAD or a Pyschologist, but I think the same thing used to happen to me. Have you considered the possibility that you might be clinically depressed, or suffer from anxiety? It sounds like you're tied up in knots inside, and it's coming out as extreme discomfort at times you normally enjoy.

Just a thought.
posted by Rykey at 8:05 PM on October 29, 2007

I can't explain it, but I have the same thing -- except about being touched in my ribs/side. It's a big problem when I'm riding on the subway and the person sitting next to me is reading. Inevitably, he'll be holding his book and his elbows, splayed out, will brush against my side. Often, it's the lightest brush. Yet I'd describe the sensation the same way -- pain that isn't painful. After a few minutes of this, I can't bare it any more and have to stand.

I suspect that normal pain in composed of several sensations that we're used to feeling all at once. One of them is a sort of tense irritation, and another is that sort of sharp, stabbing feeling. I think this is the former without the latter, but out brains don't know how to classify it, other than to think of it as pain.

In my case, I'd written it off as yet another symptom of my Aspergers. You know, that Autistic thing about not liking to be touched. I haven't had this particular quirk all my life, but with me, specific quirks wax and wane. The only constant is that there will be some sort of quirk.
posted by grumblebee at 8:29 PM on October 29, 2007

Do you have other things like this -- maybe that don't involve being touched? For instance, I go nuts if there's a rumpled sheet under me. And if there's anything even remotely sticky on my hands, I have to wash it off. I can't concentrate on anything if the stickiness is there.

I am also supersensitive to sounds. If the TV is too loud or too soft (whether or not I'm paying attention to it), it's torture (and I mean that literally). I drive my poor wife crazy by asking her to turn it up and down. I'm also bothered by odd, incongruous junk in my field of vision. Shoes lying discarded in the middle of the floor, etc. I have to move them. I try not to, but after a while, the tension builds up until I can't stand it any more -- and I move them. It all feels like unpainful pain.
posted by grumblebee at 8:33 PM on October 29, 2007

I agree with Rykey and grumblebee -- this sounds like something that is caused by a clinical condition. Not that something is Wrong With You (many psychological "conditions" are really just ways of describing how people differ from one another, and I say this as a person who lives with one of them) -- but this sounds like something that a sensitive doctor could help you identify the source of, and additionally help you manage it in the future.

This isn't limited, by the way, to congenital conditions like Asperger's -- you could simply be so stressed or anxious that those emotions are manifesting themselves in physical ways -- this is not at all uncommon, but is still something you should be seeking professional help for.

Of course, I Am Not A Doctor, but that doesn't stop me from being able to confidently say "you should see a doctor" -- some problems are clearly best handled by professionals. This is one of them.

Good luck, and take care of yourself!
posted by tweebiscuit at 9:02 PM on October 29, 2007

A fambly member had the same symptoms for years and years, and was recently diagnosed with nerve damage in a completely unrelated area of the body. Having dealt with the source of that nerve damage appears to have mitigated the symptoms greatly.
posted by deCadmus at 9:11 PM on October 29, 2007

Have you had any injuries in that area? I found myself with similar sensitivity around my neck in my early teens that I still cope with. My best guess at the time (and still best guess) was that it was tied to a minor injury in my neck that had happened almost a year prior: while playing with some friends I'd caught an accidental karate chop to the throat that rendered me gasping for air on the ground for a minute or two.

The injury was not bad at all, and it was bizarre that it took so long to manifest in my psyche the way it did. I still internally freak out when someone even looks like they might be reaching toward my neck, and I have trouble sleeping with my neck exposed.

Also, isn't it a theory of acupuncturists and chiropractors that tension and emotion are linked to / stored in different parts of the body? You might find some release from that kind of specialist.

Disclaimer: I just watched Jacob's Ladder and Danny Aiello's wonderful character just makes me want to recommend chiropractors to everyone I know.
posted by churl at 9:22 PM on October 29, 2007

Wow. I have this exact same thing. Whenever someone touches my shoulder and neck area to give a brief massage in a loving or congratulating manner, I always wince and pull away, and it's very hard for me not to. Because of this I get uneasy when someone comes up behind me when I am sitting down at my desk.

I do have depression so our fellow MeFites may be on to something...
posted by lain at 12:37 AM on October 30, 2007

its probably nerves. nerves are often more of a problem than muscles, but ppl poorly diagnose because the problems are more subtle.
posted by edtut at 1:02 AM on October 30, 2007

do you hold a lot of tension in your neck and shoulders? you may be so wound up that so tightly you literally can't take any more sensory input in that area.

if there's someone you love and trust a lot around, have them give you a neck and shoulder massage, and have a box of tissues handy. it'll probably make you cry, not from pain, but from release.

you may not necessarily have a diagnosable condition--it just may be that you've been storing your everyday stress in that part of your body and it's become your way of coping, even unconsciously.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:24 AM on October 30, 2007

I've always been this way and I think it has something to do with a deep animal aversion to people touching our vulnerable parts unless we invite them to.

At least, that's all I can figure.

posted by TheGoldenOne at 8:01 AM on October 30, 2007

Another thought. I have this but it's because I am extremely ticklish. If it seems like someone is going to touch me in an area that is ticklish I tense up and it's almost as though I expect their touch to hurt or worse tickle.

I wasn't always that way but it's gotten to the point that I even tensed up and asked my doctor to stop palpating my abdomen during my last pelvic exam.

I thought this was kind of normal because I hate to be tickled, I'm just overly sensitive to touch I guess. For what it's worth I've been on anti-depressant medications in the past.
posted by Kioki-Silver at 8:37 AM on October 30, 2007

I've got that with my knees. Pain that is not painful is the best description I've ever seen for how it feels. But I've got other weird sensory issues, too. Like I can't bear having anything touch my face. If my hair gets in my face and I brush it away, I can still feel the sensation an hour later.
posted by Ruki at 8:53 AM on October 30, 2007

Are you highly sensitive? I recently heard of the book and won't shut up about it. :) I have a lot of weird sensitivities - none exactly like what you describe, but in a similar vein. (FWIW, I hated being touched as a baby and was suspected of having autism, but I'm not diagnosed with anything on the autistic spectrum.)

The closest thing to "pain that wasn't painful" for me, and the biggest problem, was when I was a college student hoping to major in computer science. The combination of bright lights from the monitors, loud ambient noise, and frustration gave me what I tried to describe as "emotional headaches." The student health center was pretty puzzled at my attempts to describe my symptoms and thought I might have had a brain tumor... but once I removed myself from the computer lab environment, my weird headaches went away.

If it's not an injury or nerve damage, it's possible that there's some environmental stressor, or some stress in your life, that's causing you to react this way. It could be depression or anxiety, or it could just be that the lights are too bright.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:34 AM on October 30, 2007

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