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The Chronic Stress Pain Cycle

The Chronic Stress Pain Cycle

Have you ever wondered why you get painful knots (medically known as myofascial trigger points), often in the same place, along one or both of your shoulder blades? Or maybe you don’t get knots, but instead you have frequent headaches or jaw pain? A common reason for these pains is stress.

We often refer to the lists of things that add stress to our daily lives: Jobs, kids, relationships, finances, managing schedules, living through a pandemic!  Sometimes it seems we are subjected to stress all day, every day. The list of stressors can be endless for many people. But what exactly is “stress?” Stress is defined as a feeling of emotional or physical tension. When we go through our days – jumping out of bed to an alarm, sending the kids off to school, getting to work on time, dealing with challenging coworkers, meeting deadlines, sitting in traffic and we are feeling “stress” – what is happening in our bodies?

Simply stated, stress puts our bodies into “fight or flight” mode. It gets us ready to take action. Blood flow shifts from the frontal lobes (conscious way of thinking) into the limbic system (emotional, reacting, "fight or flight" part of the brain – the amygdala and autonomic nervous system). Adrenalin and cortisol are released into the bloodstream to promote survival and motivate success. The stress response is essential and when managed properly, very positive.

But when chronic, daily stress takes over our lives, it can wreak havoc on our bodies. While cortisol has many important functions like blood sugar and metabolism regulation and inflammation reduction, there is evidence that intensified cortisol secretion due to the long-term activation of the stress response system may actually condition a sensitized physiologic stress response.  This means your body may have a conditioned response to your chronic stressors.

Overexposure to cortisol and stress hormones can disrupt almost all of your body’s processes.  You may experience headaches, pain, hair loss, digestive issues, sleep disruption, muscle twitching, weight gain or loss, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, heart disease and many other symptoms. So those common “stress headaches” or muscle tension and pain – especially around the shoulders, neck and head – may become your body’s regular response to chronic stress in your life.

It’s important to find ways to manage our daily stress to prevent chronic and serious ailments. But sometimes, that is easier said than done. If you are experiencing tension and pain that you believe is due to stress, some ways to reduce that tension and pain are:

  • Apply a cloth-covered heat or ice pack to the area
  • Take frequent, short stretching breaks throughout your day
  • Take a warm or hot bath
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes each day
  • Practice good sleep habits – get enough sleep each night
  • Self-massage – a tennis ball is great for this along your trapezius muscles
  • Practice 15-30 minutes of mindful relaxation such as yoga or meditation each day

If you have tried these methods and are still experiencing chronic pain, check out this video for a few quick headache tips and exercises by clicking the link below: 


And, you are welcome to schedule a free consultation with Cindy today by clicking the link below:


Be fit and well,