To put it almost too simply, stress can “turn the volume up” on an underlying problem that you were probably just only coping with. An extra amount of stress can take you over the edge and cause a headache to come on, a neck to get stiff and sore, or a low back to spasm.
Long term studies, following thousands of people over many years are starting to uncover the reasons why some people seem to be able to cope with large amounts of stress and yet others fall ill. It has a lot to do with a person’s in-built or learned habits of responding favorably to a stress event or becoming overwhelmed by it.
One author, , who was also head of the American Psychologists Association, in his book,, called these positive ways of coping “signature strengths”. They included things like gratitude, a sense of humor, appreciation of art, altruism, to name a few. Seligman noted some 25 different strengths which he found people engaged to help them in building resilience to life’s stressful events.
It follows then that people who can build resilience to these stressful events, can actually thrive and grow during times that less-adaptable people succumb to pain and illness.
Other writers on the topic such as in his article makes the point that our stress system is well adapted to keeping us alive during particularly challenging times like being wounded, dehydrated, starved, exhausted, threatened or exposed to disease. The problem is that our modern world usually does not physically stress us as much, but our mental and imagined world creates imagined scenes where we “act as if” and keep our body operating at hyper-alert levels for very long periods. The resultant illness reads like a checklist from our modern day ailments that seem to be on the increase:
- High blood pressure
- Musculoskeletal pain
- Sleep disturbances
- Auto-immune disorders
- Gastro-intestinal problems
The link between the stresses you are under tie in with the chiropractic way of thinking when it comes to the three causes of musculoskeletal issues:
Physical causes: Knocks, bumps, falls, poor posture, injuries
Chemical causes: Infections, excess alcohol, caffeine, certain reactive foods, nicotine.
Mental / Emotional causes: As we have said in past blogs: stress and tension can overwhelm the body’s adaptive system, creating pain syndromes and a reduced sense of well-being.
Chasing trigger points in Muscles
Long term problems can actually become part of a vicious cycle where tight muscles cause pain and then the pain keeps the muscles from relaxing.
Inside muscles we have drainage channels called the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system removes waste products that are created when a muscles works. Certain points in muscles can get engorged with waste like lactic acid and become painful.
Most practitioners have skills designed to reduce these trigger points, such as direct pressure, stretching, exercise changes and acupuncture. Home stretch exercises can greatly assist in settling and eventually clearing trigger points.
Chiropractors often have massage therapists working with them to settle long-running muscle imbalances.