Many Americans have noticed an increase in their anxiety levels over the past two years. Anxiety from living in increasingly uncertain times, as well as everyday stressors, can take a toll on your body. Muscle tension is a natural stress response. Like other stress responses, a short-term reaction won’t cause too much distress, but chronic tension can cause pain and injury. Here’s why you may be noticing more pain and what you can do to feel better.
The Connection Between Stress and Muscle Pain
When we feel stressed, our muscles tense, it’s a reflex reaction designed to protect us from pain or injury. When the stressful situation ends, your muscles are supposed to relax, and your body should return to its normal state. The problem with modern life is that many of us are exposed to chronic stressors or repeated instances of acute stress. Whether it’s work, family, or health-related, chronic stress can put you in a constant state of fight or flight. When this happens, the stress responses that are good for you in the short term become toxic.
Chronic stress affects every part of your body– your endocrine, nervous, and circulatory systems all feel the effects. Chronic digestive upset, reproductive problems, anxiety, depression, heart disease, and chronic pain are just some of the problems chronic stress can cause. Muscle pain is common in people who’ve been under stress, even for a short period of time.
In addition to causing muscle tension, our stress response also decreases circulation to the muscles. Less circulation leads to a buildup of lactic acid and more stiffness. Pain from stress can be felt anywhere in the body, but the neck, shoulders, and head are the most common areas affected. Tension headaches from tense muscles in the neck and shoulders can last for days and interfere with daily living. Tension, anxiety, and depression can also affect the way our bodies perceive pain, making us feel it more acutely. This isn’t all in your head; it’s caused by real changes in neurotransmitters and nerve activity.
The Long Term Effects of Chronic Muscle Tension
When your muscles remain tight for weeks or months, they can start causing other problems. Tight, contracted muscles pull on tendons, ligaments, and bones. They can pull vertebrae out of alignment, causing subluxations. This, in turn, can cause more pain.
Tense muscles can also make it difficult to sit or stand with good posture. If you hunch your shoulders forward all the time, tiny tears can happen in the muscle. These tears will be repaired with scar tissue causing increased stiffness and trigger points. Chronically tight muscles are also more prone to injuries like strains and tears from physical activity.
Avoiding chronically tense muscles and the pain and complications they cause is a must, but no one can completely avoid stress. Luckily, there are ways to mitigate the damage and help your body relax more often. Here are three effective treatments.
Just hearing the word massage can bring on thoughts of relaxation. It’s one of the best treatments for muscle pain caused by stress. Your massage therapist will use techniques to release muscles, increase circulation and help you relax physically and mentally. The body releases feel-good chemicals in response to massage. These tell your body and mind to relax, reduce pain and inflammation and promote feelings of well-being.
Massage increases the circulation of both blood and lymph. This stimulates the immune system and helps to flush out lactic acid. Most everyone can benefit from massage, but those dealing with chronic stress or pain need a regular massage. Even once a month can help your body release stress and tension.
Exercise and Stretching
Gentle stretching is one of the best things you can do at home to ease muscle tension and pain. Follow a few simple rules to get the most benefit out of stretching (and avoid injury):
- Warm-up for three to five minutes before you stretch. Walking or marching in place will increase circulation and help your muscles stretch better.
- Stretch until you feel gentle tension–not pain. Ease slowly into the stretch, deepening it as your muscles relax.
- Breathe while you stretch. Try to breathe in right before the stretch and out as you stretch.
- Hold the stretch for 10 to 30 seconds at a comfortable position. Don’t bounce!
A warm-up followed by a stretch followed by an exercise routine is an ideal way to reduce muscle tension and pain. If you feel that your muscles are very tense and you are suffering from pain or headaches, avoid weight lifting. Cardio will help increase circulation and reduce tension without straining muscles that may be more prone to injury. Don’t overdo any type of exercise. The goal is to relax. Overexercising causes your body to release more stress hormones–the opposite of what tense muscles need. Drink plenty of water after you exercise and eat a protein-heavy snack. This will help flush lactic acid from your muscles so you don’t feel sorer.
Exercise helps fight stress-related pain in several ways. It increases feel-good chemicals that fight stress, anxiety, and depression. These same chemicals are also natural pain killers. So you should feel less stressed after a workout and get a welcome boost of pain relief. In addition to this, it increases circulation and warms up your muscles, allowing them to relax and flush out toxins.
At the beginning of this article, we mentioned that chronic muscle tension could cause subluxations. That’s a chiropractic term meaning small misalignments of the vertebrae. Spinal adjustments correct these misalignments. Often, muscle pain turns into more serious back pain as a result of tense muscles pulling on vertebrae. Correcting both of these problems is necessary for pain relief. Massage and at-home care can relax muscles to stop them from pulling on vertebrae, and an adjustment will correct subluxations. This mixture of treatments leads to pain relief and increased flexibility. Since subluxations impact your nervous system, you may notice an improvement in your stress levels and related symptoms like digestive upset after an adjustment.
Treatment for Muscle Pain in Kentucky
At All Star Chiropractic, we provide personalized care to relieve our patient’s pain. If you are struggling with muscle tension, pain, headaches, or migraines, we can help. Schedule a consultation today.