Have you ever noticed that when you’re stressed you tend to experience neck, back or shoulder pain? This is because stress can manifest as pain within the body and be an important cause of musculoskeletal problems.
The science behind the stress response
When we get stressed, the body naturally releases certain hormones to prepare for a physical response – namely cortisol and adrenaline.
Cortisol is known as the primary ‘stress hormone’ and affects a variety of bodily functions that are unnecessary in a ‘fight or flight’ situation. Shutting down the immune system, for example. Adrenaline is associated with the ‘fight or flight’ response and heightens blood pressure, increases heart rate and blood supply and causes the muscles around the spine to tense for the possible need to flee the source of stress.i
Neither of these hormones are beneficial if present at high levels for prolonged periods and they can lead to physical symptoms such as muscle tension or pain. Simply thinking or talking about a stressful event can increase tension in the back muscles of patients with chronic back pain.ii
In addition, it’s well established that people with poor musculoskeletal health are at a higher risk of experiencing mental health issues and, conversely, those with mental health issues are more likely to experience musculoskeletal problems.iii