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.
Osteopathic manipulation, or HVT (high-velocity thrust) as it is more technically known, is the “click” that many people associate with osteopathic treatment.
It is by no means always used by an osteopath, but when it is, it can prove to be a quick, efficient, and pain-free way of restoring function to a joint.
Many patients’ conditions may not be suitable for HVT, and many may not be keen to have it done anyway. In these cases, the osteopath will treat with a whole collection of other highly effective ways. HVT should be seen as a useful tool in some circumstances, but not a be-all and end-all of osteopathy.
So how does it work?
HVT is placing a short sharp tug though a joint, most often a spinal facet (which is what we will concentrate on here), a click may or may not be heard. The noise itself is a bit of a by-product. What it is has been disputed a little but the generally accepted explanation is that when the joint is stretched, the synovial fluid inside the joint itself physically does not stretch, so gas is forced out of solution causing gas bubbles that allow the joint to gap slightly, causing the clicking noise. This also explains why another click cannot be produced for a little while until the gas has been reabsorbed.
The gapping of the joint is the key to the effectiveness of HVT.
What I must point out at this point though is that the click is not a relocation of a joint.
Barely a day goes past that someone doesn’t tell me their osteopath “clicked something back in” often assuming it was a disc. As much as it can feel miraculous like this sometimes, and a patient can often feel and be quite a bit straighter following treatment, the HVT is about restoring function to the joint, not putting it back in place. Discs especially do not just “pop back in”.
So what does the gapping achieve?
Well, here we have to get a little technical. There are three predominant effects caused by HVT as far as we can tell.
Firstly, post-contractile sensory discharge or PCSD.
Imagine that the brain keeps many muscles at a gentle tension, this allows you to hold your posture. When an area is identified as problematic (painful or inflamed etc), the brain may choose to cause the muscles around the area to spasm, often to protect the area. The spasm itself may cause further pain. This then becomes a vicious circle and dysfunction.
Tension in the muscles is controlled by spindle fibres. This is what detects the short sharp tug of the muscles in HVT. Imagine the short sharp tug as a reset for these fibres. The brain then has to determine the level of muscle tension required and often can reset to the original tension, immediately bringing the joint out of spasm.
Massage of muscles, slow stretching over a longer period, has a similar effect but unfortunately can’t be performed on the small, deep muscles directly around and holding the joint.
Secondly, pain gate theory.
Even when nerves are reporting pain in a certain area, it is important that the body can still detect a soft touch in the same area. To achieve this soft touch and position detecting nerves override deep pain detecting ones. Where you ever told to rub your knee or elbow after you bumped it and it hurt? That’s pain gate, the soft-touch overrides the deep pain. It won’t stop it completely of course but even a little relief will make it feel better. In turn, this may again stop the brain causing the area to spasm.
HVT moves the joint quickly and sharply. This causes the positional detectors to immediately report this to the brain, inhibiting the deep pain.
Thirdly, meniscoid theory.
In a joint, smooth cartilaginous surfaces rub together, but they may not be quite as smooth as we used to think. Small pieces of cartilage appear to be in the joint. Possibly to fill small gaps; craters on a moonscape is a good way to think of it. It has been suggested that when the joint spasms, these small bits of cartilage, which are attached to the capsule around the joint can become trapped out of place. Gapping the joint allows the tethers to the capsule to quickly pull them back into place.
It’s possibly worth pointing out before I finish, that although I said earlier that the click is an unnecessary by-product, I do wonder if it could be argued that the psychological effect of hearing the click could be put forward as a fourth effect. Hearing a click and knowing that it may have relieved a painful joint does often make a patient immediately relax. This may itself be part of the healing process.
Osteopathic manipulation is often a quick efficient way of relieving dysfunction of a joint. It is not a miracle cure. Many other things have to be taken into account for the osteopath to treat fully and effectively.
HVT will not immediately heal damaged tissue or disperse inflammation, but it often is a good way to kick start the process.
By Andrew Doody | Osteopath | August 2019