Stretch more … Stress less

Is the madness in your life manifesting into physical pain? I treat many clients who come in with physical problems, which have developed due to underlying stress they are experiencing in their personal, work or family lives. It makes sense. Everything above the neck controls everything below the neck. If the head is removed, the body is generally quite relaxed & aligned.

As much as stress can cause physical issues and injuries, the reverse is also true. If the body has poor posture, is overloaded and injured, the feedback to the brain can create stress as the body tries to heal & retain symmetry (by constantly auto-correcting). The brain attempts to unravel tight muscles and fascia & initiates inflammatory responses to poorly aligned joints & vertebrae as it struggles to realign itself & slow down the degenerative process.

Poor posture will add to the stresses of daily existence, impede normal function, cloud judgment and clarity, and open up more opportunity for vague moments, distraction and lack of focus.

A combination of bad posture and daily stress makes the physiological feedback (the conversation from our body to our brain), either make clean efficient sense or discombobulate into a messy minefield, which potentially causes haywire in your mind. ie; A crooked body communication to the brain is “SORT THIS S#!T OUT!!!” and the brain replies with ”stop yelling at me I’m already overloaded.”

Our brains are the most powerful output centres on the planet, spraying information through the body by means of electrical impulses which keep your heart beating, enabling draw of breath, along with a billion other functions & instructions which keep us alive, happy & healthy.

If the brain takes on too many tasks, added pressures, traumatic life experiences or a combination of small factors compounding over years, psychological stress will trigger a release of cortisol, adrenaline and other hormones which can cause muscles to tense and seize and unearth in a physical way. It’s what I call ‘Neural wind up’.

The brain is similar to a computer that has had many programs installed and constant use over the years. If it doesn’t get refreshed (well being, nutrition, exercise, massage, yoga, playing with the dog/kids, talking with loved ones etc etc) or defragged (meditation, reboot by health care professional, self help, relaxation) the messages from the brain will be a little more haywire and far from efficient clean instructions to the body. Communication is more fudged rather than sequential and precise.

Jaw pain, tension headaches, neck & shoulder pain and lower back pain can all be a direct result of stress. 

Here are some quick, simple, at-home stretches which can help alleviate stress related aches and pains.

Jaw pain can commonly be a by-product of clenching your teeth while under stress. Some don’t even realize they’re doing it while they sleep! I try to make this simple jaw stretch a part of my morning routine. Open your mouth to 80% of max, hold for 30 seconds, then gently let your jaw relax and gradually close your mouth.  Repeat 3 times (or as many times as it takes to feel pain/pressure ease) before bed is also advised to negate the jaw clenching or grinding at night. (Google Temporal Mandibular Dysfunction for more info if keen.) The jaw is the pendulum that is anchored by the neck (C3/4 vertebrae), that part of the neck tends to lock if the jaw is tight. Ps, chewing gum is massive no no!

Tension headaches are a common one I’m sure we’ve all experienced at some point or another.  This can often be referred pain beginning at the jaw. Gently apply pressure to the sides of your face from just below your earlobe and keep even pressure as you stroke all the way down to your chin then rub the jaw-hinge area in a circular motion. You may feel this referring pain to your head or neck.  Keep repeating this self-massage technique several times until the muscles start to feel more relaxed. Also rub or compress around the temple region and side of the head, really get in there when washing your hair.

Neck & shoulder pain has been linked to mental stress by a recent study conducted by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. As the neck and shoulders are connected, these simple neck stretches should also be beneficial and ease shoulder pain. Use the weight of your head to slowly and gently allow your head to drop to one side of your shoulder, then the other. Try to hold each stretch for 10-15 seconds. Then repeat going forwards (ie; chin to chest), gently roll your head around (eyes shut) and notice angles of tension, when noticeable, stop and explore a stretch at that angle to alleviate tension.

Lower back pain can often be caused by poor posture or pressure on the spine (often due to sitting for long periods), however a study conducted in Sweden demonstrated that stress was a more causative factor of back pain than physical heavy lifting! Try standing against a wall and tilt your pelvis backwards (so that your lower back flattens against the wall). Hold for 30 seconds. You should experience the pressure easing immediately. Strengthening your core muscles has also proven to ease back pain. Hip flexor stretches (they’re great! Google them!) always help lower back stretches for those who sit for a living.

I hope this is of some help.

For organisations interested in Performance Optimisation, talk to me about my ‘Well at Work Program’, and get your folks firing!!!