Is stress a pain in the neck?

Posted by on Nov 14, 2013 in Blog
Is stress a pain in the neck?

Stress – we all have it from time to time, from minor everyday irritations through  to chronic long term issues.  It wasn’t until I recently experienced the side effects for myself that I looked into how and why stress can literally make you ill. So, when we are stressed our bodies, in the ‘fight or flight’ response, release the hormones cortisol and adrenaline. In small doses these hormones are fine, but long term can be harmful in many ways.

stressCortisol raises blood pressure which can increase risk of heart attack, stroke and kidney problems.

Cortisol interferes with the brains ability to make new memories and concentration – ever felt like your brain has turned to mush?

Cortisol increases sugar cravings and increases the amount of fat tissue your body hangs onto especially round the middle – so that’s where that spare tyre came from!

Other effects are insomnia and related tiredness, heartburn, stomach cramps, diarrhea, spots, outbreaks of psoriasis, headaches…..the list goes on.

The one thing that interests me more than all of these however is the affect on muscles. Ive been stressed a bit this year it’s fair to say and I’ve also had more than my fair share of aches and pains.  Over the past two months my aches and pains have even stopped me from running.121105180645_H  Now could this be down to stress or perhaps just a coincidence.  ‘Coincidentally’ since finishing my desk based job, which I was doing alongside building up my sports massage business, my aches and pains have virtually gone and I’m back running again. It does make one wonder….

So exactly how does stress cause your muscles to hurt? I’ve pinched the description below from the internet* as it explains it in a better way than I could…

Overexertion can cause muscle pain. So can stress. Increased muscle tension is an important part of the “fight or flight” stress reaction to demand and pressure. Noradrenaline from the sympathetic nervous system alerts the muscles to tense up in preparation for action. Tense muscles get set to act quickly in response to threat or danger. You move faster and have greater strength during an emergency because of this extra boost.

If no action occurs, muscle tension may remain. You adopt an “on guard” posture that lasts as long as you feel threatened: shoulders up, arms slightly forward. Waiting for the “pain in the neck” supervisor’s evaluation may bring on a knot in your upper back. The frown from worrying about your taxes may create a tension headache.

Stress also contributes to inattention to your body’s signals, increasing the likelihood that you will sit, stand, or move in ways that strain your muscles. Most people under stress are less likely to continue their exercise program, leaving the muscles vulnerable to strain when called upon for strenuous effort.stress2

The skeletal muscular system is comprised of more than four hundred separate muscles; it accounts for more than 40 percent of body weight. Any one of these muscles can become overly fatigued, injured, or develop spasms. Muscle fibres are designed to tense and then relax. A muscle can go through this tense/relax cycle indefinitely. As you walk, one set of muscles tenses while the opposing set of muscles relaxes. However, a muscle under sustained tension without an alternating relaxation phase eventually develops spasm and pain. Sustained tension from emotional stress, poor posture, or certain repetitive movements do not allow this relaxed phase to occur.

Unrelieved muscle tension leads to tension headaches, back pain, and jaw pain. Chronic muscle tension pulls on the muscle’s tendon, and can lead to pain where the tendon is attached to the bone. Chronic tension on a joint or tendon can pull the body out of balance, creating new pains. This may also cause an inflammation of the tendons, resulting in the painful condition called tendinitis. Chronic muscle tension can result in a deterioration in muscle health, strength, and conditioning. When weakened muscles are pushed beyond their physical limits, they spasm, which we experience as cramps in large muscles.

…so there you have it, stress can make you ill and make your body hurt. But what can we do about it? Firstly, exercise is a great stress reliever as it releases the feel good hormones, endorphins. Endorphins improve your mood, relieve pain and generally make you feel more positive – ever had the ‘runners high’?  Massage is another way to de-stress, it can lower your heart rate and blood pressure, relax your muscles and relieve tension and increase the production of endorphins.

Massage photo

Mandy carrying out a back massage at a client home

Serotonin and dopamine are also released through massage, and the result is a feeling of calm relaxation that makes stress much easier to overcome. I know a lot of people who get up from my couch after a neck, shoulder or back treatment feel happy, relaxed and in less pain. Often they slope off to the sofa or bed for a quick snooze too or sleep like a baby that night.

If you are feeling the ill effects of stress, why not give massage a go and see the benefits for yourself.