Stress, everyone has it too some degree – some is healthy, lots is not.
What effect does a lot of stress have on your body?
Stress is known to affect the whole body but we shall focus on the way it affects the neck and shoulder girdle. Much research over the years has confirmed a connection between neck pain and stress. One study, for instance, in the BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders Journal, found that of nearly 500 people tested, those with stress, anxiety or depression had significantly worse neck pain that lasted longer than those without.
Even without the research though, lots of people will tell you that stress makes their neck and shoulders feel tight. When someone consciously relaxes, one of the most noticeable things to happen is their shoulders drop a couple of inches.
I’d go even further, and say that as the brain recognises the connection between stress and neck & shoulder tightness (and in fact initiates it). Let me explain, if someone has a tight neck or shoulders due to another cause, the brain, rightfully or wrongfully interprets this as the body being stressed.
If you have those muscles massaged and loosened and the neck releases, most people feel immediately less stressed.
Some of the many causes of neck or shoulder girdle dysfunction and stress crossover, such as long hours working at a computer to meet deadlines, and not sleeping very well. From this, secondary symptoms can develop, most commonly, headaches.
Some exercises that I recommend for tension headaches can be found here.
So what can we do about it?
Well, as always, firstly make sure there is nothing else causing your symptoms. Get a health professional to assess you and diagnose what is causing your symptoms.
If the diagnosis is stress or posture-related then get it treated. It’s important to treat from both a musculoskeletal point-of-view as well as understand and address the cause of your stress.
Alongside this, there are a number of at-home techniques you can do to help ease the tension in your neck and shoulders.
1. Do neck and shoulder mobility exercises.
A couple of quick and easy exercises I would recommend would be:
Exercise 1 :
Exercise 2 :
Exercise 3 :
2. Get a good amount of quality sleep.
Stress is known to affect your ability to sleep. There are things you can do to give yourself the best chance of sleep.
– Make sure you’re comfortable in bed
– Be strict with no blue light (screens) for at least an hour before bed
– Having a warm bath or shower to help you relax
3. Find something to relax you.
It doesn’t have to be meditation or yoga, it could be exercise or playing an instrument. Perhaps avoiding instruments such as the violin which will exacerbate neck & shoulder pain. The ides if to find something that sends you to your flow state. Something that will distract you that you really enjoy and will relax you.
4. Work in a good environment.
Set up your workstation in an ergonomic way will do wonders for your posture. Remember to have lots of breaks and consider investing in a standing desk. If you’re interested in knowing what an ergonomic workstation set up looks like, continue reading here.
5. Speak to a healthcare professional.
Your health professional may recommend you get support or therapy for your stress, anxiety or depression, or any mental health issues you may be experiencing.
Is Osteopathy the right path for you?
Osteopathy is a holistic way to diagnose and alleviate stress-related musculoskeletal problems including shoulder and neck pain and secondary symptoms such as headaches. The treatment is catered to the individual and Andrew will take all aspects of a patient’s lifestyle into consideration when suggesting a treatment plan.
All treatment starts with an initial consultation followed by any recommended follow up treatment. You can book your initial consultation with Andrew Doody online.
80% of adults will experience tension headaches at some point. They are caused by tight muscles surrounding the neck, pressing on nerves that refer pain to another location, in this case, the head.
Most often, tension headaches are triggered by lifestyle factors such as poor posture i.e. from sitting hunched over at a computer and/or stress.
Almost all types of headache activate the same pain receptors so it can be difficult to know if your headache pain is a sign of something more serious. When experienced suddenly or regularly, you should always get your headache pain assessed by a health professional to rule out any serious health conditions.
If you have been diagnosed with tension headaches alone, the good news is they respond well to treatment. Here are a few stretches to help relieve the pain they cause:
This is a neck flexion stretch that you should repeat 10 times, holding for a few seconds each time.
This is a stretch for the upper trapezius that you should repeat 10 times, holding for a few seconds each time.
This is a stretch for the scalene muscles that you should repeat 10 times, holding for a few seconds each time.
This is a levator scapulae stretch that you should repeat 10 times, holding for a few seconds each time.
For more information on Osteopathy services at Fleet Street Clinic.
How walking can help Chronic Pain
Firstly, what is chronic pain?
Chronic or persistent pain can be explained as pain that carries on for longer than 12 weeks despite medication or treatment.
The root cause can vary person-to-person, with it sometimes due to illness or an injury. In other cases it can be due to being overweight, having years of poor posture or improper lifting of heavy weights. It can be debilitating but movement is known to help.
As an osteopath, the conversation I seem to have at least once-a-day is; how much exercise should someone who is in pain be doing?
As you can imagine every case is different, and exercise advice varies hugely from person to person and condition to condition. There is a big difference between chronic pain and recovery from injury pain. I am focusing on exercises for people with chronic pain conditions, specifically walking.
Many people with chronic pain are afraid that movement, including walking, will worsen pain. But as many have subsequently discovered, the opposite is very often true. Using your muscles and joints less can often cause pain to becomes worse. Gentle exercise like walking can really help to bring those pain levels down, as well as many other benefits like improving your circulation, strengthening your bones and of course helping to keep those extra pounds off.
Here are tips before you start:
1. Talk to your healthcare professional first
You should always take the advice of a health professional before starting any exercise. They can ensure it is safe for you to start, and guide you with the types of exercises you should begin with. They will also help you understand your limits and outline suitable goals. As a rule of thumb, if you are in pain, stop!
I, or another osteopath, can check your posture and gait and give you tips on engaging the correct muscles.
2. Get the right shoes
A good pair of supportive trainers will prove invaluable. Walking boots that protect the ankle are only really required if you’re planning to walk on loose surfaces or heading off into the mountains. Otherwise, walking trainers will suffice. To find out more about choosing the right footwear, read our blog on How To Avoid Running Injuries.
3. Start slow
What we’re aiming for is about half an hour to an hour of physical activity five days a week, but this may take some time to achieve. There’s no rush! A good indicator that you are at the right intensity level is that even though your heart rate is up a little, you are still able to carry on a conversation while walking. When starting your walk don’t go full speed immediately. Allow your muscles and joints to warm up for the first few minutes before getting up to speed. This will help prevent damage and injuries.
4. Keep hydrated
You may need to carry a bottle of water, especially for walking in hot weather. If the weather is hot, make sure you also take sunscreen and a hat to stop sunburn.
5. Finally, try to enjoy it!
The more you enjoy it, the easier it becomes. Find somewhere nice to walk, even if that means
driving somewhere. Listen to music/ podcasts/ audiobooks, or even better get a walking buddy to join you for a chit chat along the route.
For more information on osteopathy services, visit the main page.
OSTEOPATHY AT FLEET STREET CLINIC
Andrew Doody is an osteopath at Fleet Street Clinic and is fully registered with the General Osteopathic Council (GOSC).
Book an appointment with him if you have any musculoskeletal injuries by calling +44 20 7353 5678, email firstname.lastname@example.org or book an appointment online.