Stress is the body’s reaction to harmful situations – whether they’re real or perceived. When you feel threatened, a chemical reaction occurs in your body that allows you to act in a way to prevent injury. This reaction is known as “fight-or-flight,” or the stress response. The effects of stress can impact the body in a variety of ways, from mood swings and headaches to weight fluctuations. However, an often-overlooked side effect of stress is neck and back pain. Over time, repetitive bouts of stress can cause musculoskeletal issues in these regions of the body.
A certain level of stress is inevitable for most people. While it’s unrealistic to suggest eliminating all stress from life, we can take incremental steps to reduce the effects of stress and alleviate symptoms of pain.
Let’s take a closer look at two ways stress can affect your body.
Over time, constant stress can contribute to mid-back and low-back pain. Back pain can affect your posture and the way you walk, which can lead to pain in the hips, knees, and feet.
- Mid-back pain includes muscles that are affected by breathing, including the chest and shoulder muscles. When you’re stressed, your breathing patterns change and cause strain and tension in the mid-back. Your shoulders hunch up and cause pain throughout the upper and middle back.
- Low-back pain includes the tailbone and lower half of the back muscles. These muscles affect flexibility and posture. Many people become more sedentary during periods of stress, which means they stretch and exercise less. For example, sitting at your desk for several hours a day when you’re busy at work can strain the spine and low-back muscles.
Given its proximity to the head, tension in the neck due to stress can cause muscle pain and headaches. Additionally, when your posture is poor, such as straining to look at a computer or mobile phone, or hunching over your desk, you’re putting stress on the neck muscles.
An effective way to reduce the effects of stress on your body is to stretch and exercise more. Physical activity can improve overall health. Make an effort to get up during the workday and walk a few laps around the office, or try a standing desk. Make time for exercise at home and on the weekends. Physical therapy can also help relieve spine pain and return your neck and back to normal flexibility.
At Campbell Clinic, patients with back pain are treated by a multidisciplinary team of specialists who can properly assess how the effects of stress are impacting your body. If the effects of stress are taking over your normal life, it’s a good idea to see a doctor. Make an appointment with us when you’re ready.