Stress: The Cause of Your Pain?

Stress has been linked to chronic diseases and disorders, but how can it be affecting those aches and pains you are experiencing.

Stress is the body's response to being overwhelmed by the outside world.  As many of you already know most of the chronic diseases and disorders talked about in the news lately are either caused or made worse by stress.  Times are tough right now, we are all working harder than ever and receiving less for our efforts.  Forget about the financial stress many Americans are under, think about the stress related to family, school and/or work encountered every day.  Stress itself doesn’t cause problems; it's the way we handle the stress that causes problems. 

The muscles in your lower back, neck, shoulders and buttocks tend to tighten into a hunched, defensive posture as if you’re protecting yourself from life’s blows.  These tightened muscles reduce blood flow to the area and alter biomechanics, making muscles more prone to strain and pain.  This decreased blood flow also decreases the amount of oxygen received by the muscle, leading to microscopic scar tissue formation.  Many times I am asked by patients “how did this pain come out of nowhere? What did I do to myself?”  My answer usually is that this one incident is the proverbially straw that broke the camel’s back.   Injury has been brewing for a while; you need to remember pain is a warning sign from the body, sometimes we don’t feel it until substantial injury has occurred.    

Next time you are stressed out, try to take note of your posture.  You may notice your shoulders up by your ears; this is a stress response many people don’t realize.    Stress seems to gravitate to previously injured areas or “problem spots” and there have been numerous studies that correlate stress with chronic pain.  

Now what to do when you are feeling stressed out?  RELAX! I know it is hard for many of us.  Relaxed, deep breathing is the best remedy when that stressed-out feeling hits.   Here is a good tip for stress reduction:

  • Breathing exercise: Perform 5-10 minutes daily.  Find a quite place to be in a comfortable position either seated in a chair or lying down.  Close your eyes and focus on your breath.  Concentrate on the in-breath and then on the out-breath.  The rhythm should be regular and relaxed, you may be able to feel your belly rise and fall with each breath.  Every time your mind starts to wander, bring it back to the breath.  Don’t get frustrated, it may take a few times to really get this relaxed breathing down.  Your mind is used to going 100 miles an hour and your breaths are probably used to being shallow.

This breathing technique may not work for everyone, some people may need to lace up the sneakers and go for a three mile run to clear their head.  It is important to find what your de-stresser is and partake in it regularly.  For many people it may not easy to slow down and relax, but the more conscious and aware you are of your stress, the more likely you are to do something about it.  You need to, YOUR health depends on it!


Muscle Medicine by Rob DeStefano, D.C. 2009


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