Back pain and stress

October 17, 2016 3:36 pm Published by
From my own experience, I really can empathise with anyone experiencing muscular pain. One of the reasons I trained to be a sports massage therapist is so I could get a greater understanding of some of the problems I had suffered over the many years of hard training and generally abusing my body!

Stress is a natural thing and our bodies are designed to cope with it, to a certain extent.  It heightens (or suppresses) our senses, speeds up our reactions, it helps us cope with pain, whether it’s physchological or physical.
The problems occur when we overload our systems beyond their normal limits too often, without some sort of relief, or release.  When we get stressed our bodies produce hormones that boost our systems to enable us to best cope with certain situations, our senses may be sharpened, heart rate increased, muscles tensed, breathing rate increased, so we are ready to do something, this has been termed “Fight or Flight” response.

In other words, depending on the situation, we get ready to go head long into a situation, or run away from it. If we did either of those two things, our bodies would release the tension in our muscles and things would get back to normal. However, life these days isn’t often that simple and most of us just take it on the chin when something stresses us out.

In consequence our bodies can remain in overdrive, not being able to relax.  In some instances, this can lead to a multitude of physical (and phychological) problems, which unless sorted, just keep reoccurring and escalating. Stress can cause sleeping issues, IBS, hair loss, skin problems, headaches, hyperventilation, loss of weight and even depression, to name but a few.

Whilst massage is not the answer to every problem, I believe it’s a good starting point. I often find that my clients come back to me and say that they have never slept so well as they have done after having a deep tissue massage. This in itself has some major benefits in term of general health and wellbeing, and aiding recovery.

In terms of back pain, more specifically upper back and neck pain caused by tension and stress, deep tissue massage really comes into its own.

As I mentioned earlier, when we get stressed our muscles tense up (spasm), particularly those in the upper back, shoulders and neck, the Trapezius, Levator scapulae, Scalenes and Sternocleidomastoid.

These particular muscles are postural muscles (type 1).  These types of muscles have very low stores of energy (glycogen) and fatigue slowly, they are mainly involved in postural and stabilisation tasks, they tend to shorten over time, causing reduced mobility and pain, often felt in the top of the shoulders, middle of the shoulder blades and in the neck.  It can be so bad that you can’t turn or bend your neck without pain and it can even be difficult to get a decent night’s sleep.
Of course, stress alone may not be the only cause of shortened postural muscles; it may just be contributory factor. Shortened muscles may be caused by bad posture, sitting or working in one position for too long, or over/under use of particular muscle groups causing an imbalance in the body’s natural structure. Bad posture can also cause associated pain in other parts of the body, particularly in the lower back and sometimes even the arms and legs.

I have found that deep tissue massage can have an amazing effect on relaxing these postural muscles and alleviating pain. The effects can very often be felt after just one session, however, such is the way of life, this does vary depending on the individual and severity of the complaint.

At the end of a session I will often have a chat about the underlying issues that may have been a contributory factor in causing the problems in the first place, run through some of the muscles affected and also demonstrate some simple stretching and breathing exercises that could help to alleviate future problems.

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This post was written by Chris Wood

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