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Stress and Pain

A common question that I am asked is how stress levels can affect pain levels. Many clients have noticed that pain levels seem to get worse when they go through a period of stress.

If you ask a dentist they will give you many examples of broken teeth associated with clenching and nocturnal grinding.

Stress is commonly associated with an increase in muscle tone within the muscles of the body generally. Tightness in the muscles of the shoulders, jaw, calves, feet and even the diaphragm (associated with a shortening of breath) are commonly reported.

Stress has four main effects on the body that relate to pain:

1. Increasing specific muscle tone. As mentioned above the resting tone of several major muscle groups increase with periods of stress. This is especially true of the postural muscles, and the diaphragm, which is why people who are stressed often look and act stressed. This increase in muscle tone produces pain because muscle spasm is one of the three parts of the pain generating system of the body.

2. Overall loading of the nervous system. The nervous system, like all machines, has a physical capacity. When it is exposed to long periods of stress, which can be physical, chemical or psychological, it fails to be as dynamic. The nervous system loses the ability to provide smooth motor control and motor control becomes inaccurate. This is a very common cause of injury.

3. The nervous system has altered function during stress. When we consider the autonomic part of the nervous system (the one that controls things outside your conscious influence), there are three parts. 1) The sympathetic system which is responsible for your body’s ‘fight or flight’ reaction. 2) The parasympathetic system which looks after the workings of your body during rest and recuperation. It also controls your heart rate and body temperature under normal conditions. 3) The enteric system which controls the workings of your gut.

Stress will fire up the sympathetic nervous system at the expense of the other two so that your ‘Fight or Flight’ system (FF system) is engaged. As it cannot operate all of these systems together, the enteric system which controls the gut and digestion will rush digestion, robbing the body of essential nutrients that are only obtained during relaxed and complete digestion.

This rushed physiology and incomplete digestion results in chemical changes to the body, making inflammation more likely.

4.The FF system encourages pain. The FF system creates pain in other ways too as it uses cortisol and adrenaline to create the required response in the body. The FF system wants the body to respond differently and help with surviving a stressful situation. It uses cortisol and adrenaline to create these changes to your body. These chemicals directly increase pain levels as part of the FF response.

Chiropractic care is a very successful way to combat the effect of stress in the body as it resets the nervous system, helps return muscle function to a correct level and has a direct impact on the autonomic nervous system and the resulting SS system.

We all know people with long term stress or pain issues. Why not do them a favour and tell them about the benefits of chiropractic care?

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