Stress can have a dramatic effect on the musculoskeletal system.
Hans Selye (1907-1982) pioneered the way we comprehend the term “stress” by objectively studying and understanding it. He developed the General Adaptation Syndrome (later renamed Stress Syndrome) in which he described how the body responded to stress by activating the nervous system and endocrine system to release certain hormones. He realized that prolonged stress affects the body the same way chronic disease does; Hence, stress could cause disease and decay in the body.
Stress Syndrome shown in 3 distinct stages:
- Alarm – Your body and mind go into high alert as they become aware of a stressor. “Fight or Flight” occurs, and adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol are released.
- Resistance – Your body and mind respond and react, adapting to the stressor. Adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol continue to be released.
- Exhaustion – If the stressor continues to be unresolved or undiminished, depletion of your physical and mental reserves occur. Your energy and immunity are lowered and the body is susceptible to disease and decay.
However, stress is not always bad. Selye, tried to make this point by classifying stress as positive or negative.
- “Eustress” is a positive stress, prompting action which makes us better at managing stress and or overcoming a stressful event.
- “Distress” is a negative stress with no periods of relief or relaxation – “The wear and tear of life.”
The sources of “Eustress” and “Distress” in our lives can really be broadly categorized as follows:
- Your body
- Your mind (thoughts/emotions)
- Your environment
What’s important to note, is that we can gain the skills to make positive changes in all three of the above sources of stress. Also, they are interrelated, so making a positive change in one, can help reduce “distress” in the other categories.
The opposite is also true. A negative change in one, can affect the other two. Let’s take a look at the stress of pain and injury in your body.
Let’s say you’re involved in a car accident resulting in lower back and neck pain.
- Your body would be affected and stressed from the injury and pain itself. Changing the way you move and function during the healing process.
- Your mind may begin to have negative thoughts and psychological stress about your pain or the accident. Negative thoughts about how the pain is affecting you at work, at home, and socially, can cloud your mind.
- Your environment at work or at home may not be a supportive or understanding one. This can slow your healing process and can cause you further stress.
These different sources of stress, if left unresolved, can do the following to your body, further aggravating the pain and injury:
- Chronic muscle tension – protective tensioning (aka hypertonicity)
- Guarded rounded posture – shrugging shoulders, forward head posture, rounding the mid and lower back, leading to postural strain
- Altered biomechanics – When we’re protected and guarded we move more forcefully and less efficiently. Think of how much pressure you might use to type when you’re stressed versus when you’re relaxed.
- Decreased threshold to pain – increased pain with less stimuli
- Decreased immune response – slow healing process
- Fatigue, Depression, and Anxiety – These factors make it more difficult to take the right steps to overcome the pain and injury.
- Other physical symptoms may include: headaches, increased blood pressure, stomach aches/indigestion, increased heart rate and respiration, chest pain, change in sex drive, and sleeping problems
It’s evident that there is a link between stress and pain, and they are interrelated. In a study of 26,000 employee cases from various industries and workplace settings who experienced pain and/or stress, the connection between their stress and musculoskeletal pain revealed some extremely useful findings:
- The most common reason cited as to why an employee had difficulty meeting their workload demands, was musculoskeletal pain and injury followed by stress.
- The overwhelming majority of participants reported that they first experienced pain and injury followed by increased stress, anxiety, and depression and not the other way around.
- About half of the participants felt that they experienced both musculoskeletal pain and stress as opposed to just one or the other.
- The risk factors for stress anxiety and depression in the workplace were virtually the same as the risk factors for pain and injury in the workplace. Click Here For Ergonomics Information
Possible Solutions if you’re experiencing pain and stress!
- Address unresolved pain and injury with a proper assessment and treatment plan.
- Work with a mental health professional.
- Identify and clarify causes of stress through a stress journal.
- Write down when and how your thoughts are affecting you, and possible solutions.
- Write down when and how your body is affecting you, and possible solutions.
- Write down when and how your environment is affecting you, and possible solutions.
- Take action by being: physically active, enjoying the company of family and friends, employing relaxation techniques to your daily routine, setting aside personal time for hobbies and activities that you enjoy.
If you’re experiencing unresolved pain, we’re here to help. Don’t let pain become a continual source of stress. Book an appointment today 561-318-8070.
- “Link between stress and musculoskeletal disorders.” Personnel Today. N.p., 02 Nov. 2013. Web. 15 Apr. 2017.
- Stress, September 2012; 15(5): 472–478 q Informa Healthcare USA, Inc. ISSN 1025-3890 print/ISSN 1607-8888 online DOI: 10.3109/10253890.2012.710919
- “Pain and your emotions.” MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2017.