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.