Chronic stress can be damaging to our bodies. It can affect respiratory, cardiovascular, digestive and even reproductive systems. But did you know that chronic stress also impacts the musculoskeletal system?
– The mechanism of stress in pain –
When stressful situations arise, the body’s response is to go into a ‘flight, fight response to protect itself against harm or injury. Physically this can be seen through tightening and spasming of muscles. This is an automatic reflex response, where the muscle tension will generally ease once the stressful situation has passed.
Why does the muscle still remain in spasm after the stress has gone?
Sometimes in the case of ongoing chronic stress, the body may have set into a cycle of pain even after the painful stimulus or stress has gone. It protects itself by staying in pain and so when stress arises again the body is already ‘protected’.
This can lead to a range of conditions such as:
- Movement dysfunction – Restriction and pain on normal daily activities
- Constant pain
- Muscular spasm and muscle weakness
- Headaches, migraines and Jaw pain
- Neck, back and shoulder pain
The pain cycle can lead to further negative patterns
For example, fear avoidance is where a person with chronic stress and pain will start avoiding more and more things to try and stop triggering pain or stress, even though these activities may not be related. This in turn usually decreases physical activity, increases low mood and leads to further patterns around pain. This will continue in a downward spiral until something breaks the cycle.
– How to relieve pain related to stress –
The earlier we assess and treat when the body is stressed both physically and mentally, the less likely the body will get into a pain cycle. Early intervention is key!
Stopping the pain progression
If your pain has lasted more than 6 months, seek the advice of your health care professional. This is to make sure you don’t need a scan, a specialist referral or medication to help break the pain cycle.
During your consultation an assessment will be performed through movement and orthopaedic test. The key is to find out what is going on so we can offer better treatment and management advice. Often during the movement testing we discover something that can help you at home.
If a helpful, pain relieving movement is found, we will explain the what’s going on so you better understand your pain. Its really empowering! If we don’t find a movement that helps we will move on to some treatment.
Treatment can include Massage, Dry Needling, Joint Mobilisation and Cupping to name a few. As Clinical Myotherapists we have a wide range of tools in our tool kit we can draw upon. This step is about assisting the movement therapy further by reducing pain and increasing movement. Oftentimes we can get more out of the movement therapy after treatment intervention.
Lastly a Remedy Routine is given to you which outlines what you will continue doing to get out of pain. It will detail your movement therapy and may include stretches and strengthening but usually that comes a bit later. We will stay in touch via email to closely monitor progression and follow up in about a week initially to stay ahead of your pain cycle and progress your remedy routine.
– Stress reduction –
Stress reduction is an important part of reducing your pain. Things that can help reduce stress include exercise, meditation or mindfulness and talking about your problems with a friend. Sometimes the help of a Counsellor or Psychologist to learn new coping strategies or CBT for example can be very helpful.