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Stress and Muscular Pain

Updated: Mar 21, 2023

The majority of people that I treat suffer from chronic muscular pain. Most are unsure as to the cause of their pain and surprisingly they have been suffering with it for months, years, decades! We get pain for many reasons, daily repetition in our jobs, such as a painter and decorator, long hours spent stationary at a desk or behind the wheel of the car, over exerting ourselves when exercising, but more often than not there is a another less obvious reason.

I work with clients on treatment programs – one treatment per week for up to six weeks. By week three or four there should be a significant change in their level of pain or their range of movement if that's affected. If this is not happening my "spidy" senses start to go off, there is something else going and nine times out of ten this something is called stress.

Lets face it life is bleeding hectic, we run around like headless chickens trying to tick things off our ever growing to do list, over committing ourselves, usually doing things we don't particularly want to ending up exhausted, mentally drained, resentful, grumpy and in pain. Sound familiar?

How does stress cause muscular pain?

Have you heard of our “fight or flight” response? That’s right it’s one side of our autonomic nervous system called the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) that activates when we are in danger. Chemicals, specifically adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol are released when our bodies get into a state of readiness to respond to a threat or danger. Our heart beats faster, our breath quickens and our muscles tense. We do need a certain amount of stress, to achieve things, perform well and be able to respond if threatened, but when the switch on this response is turned on a lot of the time or permanently, it can have a detrimental impact on our bodies and health.

Fortunately these days we don't see many saber tooth tigers whilst hunting and gathering in Sainsbury’s, so that muscle tension response is not required in the same way as it was with our ancestors, but if we continue in a SNS response the muscles don't get to relax and can develops spasms and pain. This could eventually cause chronic pain, inflammation and other conditions in the body.

The most common stress related pain that you may relate to is the tension headache. Others are the headaches big brother migraines, back, neck and shoulder pain, jaw pain, inflammation, deterioration in muscle health and strength. Other systems of the body are also affected. It supresses the immune system, increases the levels of cortisol (stress hormone) and when these are high over a long period of time the adrenals become depleted, which raises prolactin levels which increases the bodies sensitivity to pain.

How do we catch symptoms early?

We do get warning signs, but we tend to not notice them or ignore them and only seem to do anything when the pain gets too much starts to regularly affect our daily lives.

Some of the subtle, or not so subtle signs when you know what they are could be:-

· Sleep issues – getting to sleep or staying asleep

· Reduced levels of clarity/brain fog

· Inability to switch off and relax

· Weight loss/gain

· Reduced memory

· Constant feeling of anxiety

· Digestive issues

· Continually tired

· Crabby, snappy, bad attitude, teary and irrational (my favourite)

Possible Solutions

Awareness is the first step, once we are aware that we are experiencing stress, pain, anxiety then we can do something about it. Here are a few things that you may like to consider.

Massage - well obviously I am going to say get a massage, nowadays I see this as an essential, not a luxury. Not only can massage relieve aches and pains, but research has shown it can:-

· Lower your heart rate and blood pressure

· Relax your muscles

· Increase the production of endorphins, your body’s natural “feel good” chemical

· Aid sleep – I hour massage is the same as 7-8 hours’ sleep to your body

· Reduce anxiety

· Relax mind and body

Breathe – the breath is a brilliant and free resource that can be accessed at any time. It is also the most amazing regulator of the nervous system. Check in with how you feel and then simply sit and take a few deeper, slower breaths in and out. This may not be easy at first so be kind and patient with yourself, it may take some practice. Then spend just a couple of minutes with one hand on the belly and one hand on the chest and breathe down into the belly. Focus on the breath and keep it slow and longer than your normal breath. Check in again and see how you feel now.

Meditation – uses simple techniques, which if practiced daily may provide you with the space that you need to help lower stress levels, decrease anxiety and calm the mind – it can be pretty frantic up there.

Talking Therapy – I believe that sometimes we need to verbalise what is going on for us, get it off our chest and get some understanding for ourselves as to what is going on. Finding someone you trust and who can hold space without judgement is paramount and can be life changing.

Exercise – What sort of exercise should I do? One that you enjoy. There is nothing worse than forcing yourself round the gym when the thought of a treadmill or spin class fills you with dread! There are tonnes of things to choose from - walking, swimming, cycling, running, tennis, badminton etc. One thing that is important here though is that if you are go, go, go in daily life doing a more gentler form of exercise is may be what is needed. Something like yoga, pilates or Tai Chi, where we keep our energy flowing, but we are starting to activate the calmer side of the nervous system our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). A high impact form of exercise may keep the SNS stimulated and those chemicals raging in the body.

Project Me Time – I have found that working women and mums are the worst at prioritising themselves and putting themselves first. I read a post that asked “Do you feel guilty if you take time out for yourself?” Most of the responses were a resounding yes! It is important to give ourselves some “me” time, it’s the old “putting your own emergency face mask on”, on a plane scenario - if we don't look after ourselves and keep our tanks topped up how can we help and look after others. I love taking my monthly magazine subscription to the local coffee shop and having a catch up on latest styles, it gives me inspiration and ideas. What would your ideal “me time” look like?

Have Fun/Being Social Humans are pack animals and love connection and socialising. I love a catch up with friends, those mates that you know you are going to have a really good belly laugh with. Laughter is definitely the best medicine. Also try daft dancing – a client of mine told me she would daft dance in her kitchen, I imagine it’s a bit like “dad” dancing, but wilder!

Sing – it has been scientifically proven to lower stress, improve anxiety and elevate endorphins! It doesn’t matter if you can’t sing, no excuses, no one can hear you when you are belting one out in the car or shower!!

I hope you enjoyed reading this and it may have answered any questions you may have. If however you would like some clarity about a specific issue, or how I can help please get in touch.

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