Tone has written a comprehensive article on the link between our emotions and the pain we feel in our bodies.

This is a big subject so we have decided to divide it up in more easily digested chunks!

In this first blog, she will explain more about emotional back and neck pain, what is going on to cause this and where we most often store stress in our bodies.

In the second blog she will go into more depth exploring stress and inactivity and how our emotions are linked to our physical selves.

And finally she will explain how we can mitigate the symptoms associated with stress in particular, and its relation to the pain we feel.

Two of our chiropractors, Nic Langlois and Mike Marinus have each made a film to help you address neck pain and avoiding headaches and some simple posture exercises to help.

There is a link at the end of each blog so you can watch and follow their advice.

So let’s start with:

Emotions and back pain

Do you struggle with emotional back or neck pain?

We usually think that back and neck pain is related to a physical injury like when we have been working too hard in the garden, lifting too much or working unevenly. These are common injuries we see in a chiropractic clinic on a daily basis.

Over the past 30 years I have seen many patients coming in with sudden crippling back pain, a locked neck and inability to move and sometimes there is no obvious cause.

But when we dig a little deeper and ask about what has really been going on in their lives, we often find the pain can be associated with long term stress, tension and even worry. I have seen patients unable to move their neck after going to a funeral or getting crippling back pain the day before their child’s GCSE results.  I have looked after patients who have suddenly locked their back before their 60th birthday party, and I work with people daily who have tension related to stress at work or issues with their relationships. None of these episodes were due to a physical cause, but rather linked to stress and tension.

On the other hand, I have seen many patients who have had long term, chronic stressful situations at work, and who one day comes into the practice and their backs now have a completely normal tension!  When asking what has changed in their lives, they’ve explained that either their bully has moved job, or they are no longer in the same stressful situation at home. The tension in their spine and muscles have completely changed. It can be like palpating a different back!  Again, no physical change, but the stress factor had been removed.

Our bodies can be amazing catalysts for how we feel emotionally!

There are many reasons how this can occur, research to understand this is expanding year on year. But the purpose of this article is to explore where we might store stress in our bodies and what we can do to mitigate this.

Bodies don’t lie

I often joke to patients and say that I don’t really need to know their case history as their bodies will tell me what is going on. This is a slight exaggeration of course, but our bodies do tell a story, and often reflect what is going on in our lives, both physically and emotionally.

Where do we store stress in our bodies?

As this is a chiropractic piece, I will focus mainly on the musculoskeletal regions of the body rather than other areas that are often associated with stress and tension.

Neck and shoulders

One of the most common area that I find can be linked to stress in our neck and shoulders. When we feel threatened or anxious, we often raise our shoulders up towards our ears and bring our heads forwards. This is a primitive, primal posture reaction, and is believed to have originated as a response to protecting ourselves from an attack. We move our bodies forward and then we make ourselves smaller. However, when we bring our neck forward and tense our neck and upper shoulders, it can often give rise to pain and tension in this region. The spine is designed to be in an upright vertical position, so altering the posture forward will adversely create muscle adaptation against gravity.

Rib cage and mid back

Our breathing often changes when we feel stressed and can become more shallow (like before a presentation, or a performance on stage) and in this way the muscles from the upper rib cage can become over active and tense. You are also not moving your ribs as much as you are designed to do with each breath. This will often affect our midback and ribcage too and cause it to stiffen and tighten up. Altered and reduced breathing can lead to lack of blood flow and oxygenation to the muscles and soft tissues of the body and in turn cause them to stiffen up and become more pain sensitive.

Jaw

Another area to be thought to be affected by stress, is our jaw. We hold a lot of tension here, and this can lead to clenching and grinding of our teeth, which is also called bruxism. The muscles involved in this can give you referred pain, headache, migraines and tension into your face, head and neck. This frequently happens at night when we sleep and relax. It is as if our bodies keep working on the stress while we sleep.

Lower back and pelvic pain

Another area linked to stress are our lower backs, gluteal (buttock) muscles and our hamstrings. I often find people unable to relax these muscles even when they are lying down and are not working against gravity. They are simply so used to holding tension here that they are not aware of it. In yoga they say the hip flexor muscle called Psoas can be linked to feeling threatened, and can tighten up when we are stressed, again a stress response preparing us to quickly run away from danger.

When these muscles tighten up in a chronic way, they can affect lower back mobility and flexibility and could therefore make us more prone to lower back stiffness.

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