Stress and Muscular Pain
The majority of people that I treat suffer from acute or chronic muscular pain. Most are unsure as to the cause of their pain and surprisingly they have been suffering with it for weeks, months, even years! It could be down to posture, a job with lots of repetitive movement, such as a painter and decorator, long hours spent at a desk or behind the wheel of the car, but there could also be another less obvious underlying reason.
I usually work on up to a 6 week treatment protocol – 1 treatment per week for up to 6 weeks. By week 3 or 4 the patient should experience a significant change in their level of pain or their range of motion if affected. If this is not happening alarm bells usually start to ring that there is something else going on and most of the time that something else is “Stress”. Believe it or not, not that many people associate stress as a possible cause of their pain.
So how does stress cause us muscular pain in our bodies?
Heard of “fight or flight” mode? That’s right it’s when our bodies get into a state of readiness to respond to a threat or danger. It means we can move fast if we need to, like when we originally had to sprint from a saber tooth tiger back in the good old hunter and gatherer days! When we are stressed our bodies’ sympathetic nervous system goes into this mode, and although a certain amount of stress is not bad for us – it keeps up on our toes and helps us achieve things, when our bodies are in this mode continually, it can have a big impact on our health.
Increased muscle tension is one of the bodies fight or flight responses to ensure that we can act quickly. Fortunately for us we don’t meet that many saber tooth tigers whilst hunting and gathering in Sainsbury’s, so that muscle tension is not utilised and hence kept in this state of tension. Muscles are designed to tense and relax and they can do this indefinitely. However, this relaxation phase is prevented when we are stressed and so the muscle develops spasms and pain. This could eventually cause chronic pain and other issues 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, TMJ, 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.
Other signs of stress could be:
• Sleep issues – getting to 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)
OK so more importantly what can be done about it?
Well obviously as a massage therapist I am going to say get a massage!! 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
Other things that may help are:-
Acupuncture – research has Research has shown that acupuncture treatment may specifically benefit anxiety disorders and symptoms of anxiety by “Acting on areas of the brain known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the ‘analytical’ brain, which is responsible for anxiety and worry (Hui 2010; Hui 2009);
Hypnotherapy – provides relaxation and calm, can break patterns that don’t serve us and can get to the route of the problem.
Counselling – sometimes just being able to get things off your chest, in a non-judgemental environment is all it takes.
Meditation – uses simple techniques, which if practiced daily may help you control stress, have a great capacity for relaxation and decrease anxiety, as well as improve cardiovascular health.
Exercise – which is one the first things we give up when we are stressed – make sure you enjoy it though as there is nothing worse than forcing yourself round the gym, when the thought of a treadmill or spin class fills you with dread! Try walking, swimming, cycling, yoga, pilates – whatever takes your fancy, but move, it is really important for your emotional and mental wellbeing as well as your physical.
Taking time out for yourself – working women and mums are the worst and if you are a working mum – oh dear! I read a post the other day asking “do you feel guilty if you take time out of your business for yourself?” Most of the responses were a resounding yes! It is important to grant ourselves some “me” time, I love taking my monthly magazine subscription to the local coffee shop and having a catch up on latest trends, but its whatever works for you and without the guilt.
Have Fun!!! Laughter is definitely the best medicine. Also try daft dancing – a client of mine told me she would daft dance in her kitchen, I think it’s a bit like “dad” dancing.
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!!
And one of my favourites when I feel stressed which incorporates fun, movement and letting go, especially if you do the moves too! So go on I dare you – Be More Monkey!!!