“There’s been a lot of stress at work” I should get a dollar for every time someone has come to me with neck pain and said this to me. Tell me something , have you noticed a pounding headache at the end of your stressful day and didn’t even realise that it was there until you got home? Our lives have become even busier with everything going online. So you may be in front of the computer at work but then you get home and you’re still in front of a laptop or phone. Ordering this , researching that or simply because you want to relax. But does it? That’s the million dollar question. Stress can wreck havoc in our bodies. If you’ve had an injury or suffer from chronic pain, stress can do a lot of damage.
Cortisol is very aptly named the stress hormone. You know when humans were hunters and gatherers this hormone was so important. It triggered the flight or fight response in us. So if you were out hunting and suddenly saw a tiger, the stress hormone would make you run for your life! But then, once you knew you’re alive, you would relax. But in today’s world we are constantly busy. We’re always worrying about something or the other which makes it very hard for us to relax. It’s work, it’s your kid’s sport or school and to top it all you have to call your mom every day! Now come on. Just kidding, you understand though don’t you?
I kid you not the number of times I’ve heard people say ” I store my stress in my neck”. Don’t we all? That’s exactly what it does. Stress can cause the muscles to become very tight. Why? Because when we’re stressed, we tend to sit hunched over. Our shoulders become rounded. We frown a lot more. We walk with our heads down. This all happens at a very subconscious level. Also the changes are small. They build over time. So you won’t suddenly wake up with a hunch back of notre dam look. But you will certainly see it if someone points to your poor posture. Tight muscles don’t allow good circulation and stiffen up the joints. This in turn results in chronic neck pain, headaches and back pain.
Have you noticed what happens to your heart and lungs when you’re stressed? Your heart rate goes up. You start breathing heavily. This means that your heart is working overtime to pump the blood to the body. As a result, there’s increased pressure in the blood vessels causing high blood pressure. Repeated stress leads to ongoing increase in heart rate which in long-term can contributes to inflammation. Inflammation is nothing but swelling which is pretty much what triggers pain.
I cannot stress the importance of reducing stress in your life especially if you’re recovering from chronic pain. There are several ways to do this and I’ll explore a few in another article. But for now, the first step is to ask for help. Physio can definitely help with getting rid of your pain. So why wait for things to overwhelm you before you take action?