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  • 7 Ways Your Body Contributes to Your Stress and Pain

    human body

    Last week I promised to write a series of posts addressing each of the 7 areas of our lives and how they affect our stress level and pain. As a massage therapist, it seems as though the body is the obvious place to start.

    The link between the body and pain is pretty clear; but the link between body and stress isn’t always quite as clear. By now we all know that stress affects the body, but can the body affect our stress levels? Of course! Stressors can be mental, emotional, spiritual, or physical. Poor posture, injury, illness, weakness, and many other factors can put a physical stress on the body which in turn allows us to create mental and emotional stressors regarding the stress, pain, incapacity, or other type of dysfunction and how it will impact our life. It also leads to more physical stressors.

    Do You Prevent Pain and Stress or Cause Them?

    In order to fully evaluate the role your body plays in your stress and pain responses, you need to take an honest look at these 7 general categories:

    • Posture – Ideally your posture will be relaxed and balanced. There are many reasons you want to have good posture, besides getting your mom to stop nagging you about it. A relaxed posture creates ease throughout your body, allows for a quick and easy transition from one movement to the next, facilitates ongoing activities, and more importantly makes you attractive and attentive.
      That means you want to avoid: slouching, sitting with your head forward, rounding your shoulders, clenching your teeth, bending or lifting at your waist, and sitting with your hips rotated or twisted.
      You’ll want to make sure you do more of these: sit up straight (but relaxed), let your tongue rest lightly on the roof of your mouth, keep your head up, and keep your shoulders back.
    • Muscles and Joints – Optimally, your muscles and joints will be relaxed. I know. Shocking, isn’t it? Tight muscles not only create pain and dysfunction in themselves, they also put a strain on the joints they control and the surrounding musculature. The biggest impediment to maintaining relaxed muscles is… stress. I know. Another shocker. Stress causes muscles to contract to get ready to fight or flee, and to protect soft squishy bits like the front of your neck from being ripped open by the saber tooth tiger your body’s expecting. If you have a high enough level of stress for a long enough period of time, you may even begin holding tension in muscles all the time, whether you’re stressed or not. In other words the tension becomes habit.
      Here are a few things to avoid: Holding tension in muscles you aren’t actually using – such as having tight leg or hip muscles when sitting, locking your knees (or other joints), repetitive strain/movement, holding your back rigid, and holding on to things too tight (e.g. gripping steering wheel, shopping bags, or purse as though they’re struggling for freedom).
      Make sure to do these:
      Take time throughout the day to calm and relax your body, breathe deeply throughout the day – especially when stressed, check in with your body to see if you’re holding unnecessary tension anywhere and then consciously relax each area you find, maintain a healthy weight, and let your body hold itself up (the way it’s meant to).
    • Strength – The idea isn’t to be as big and bulky as possible, it’s to be strong enough to do the things you need and want to do easily, without injuring yourself.
      Avoid: Doing too much, lifting things that are too heavy, working through pain (especially if you have a chronic pain condition), rushing through activities, and strengthening to the point of being muscle bound.
      Do: Strengthening exercises, aim for balanced strength (i.e. work out at the ability of the weak side until it catches up, then work to strengthen both sides together), strengthen both front AND back, and work both arms AND legs.
    • Full Range Of Motion –  Just like any mechanical device, the more moving parts there are and the farther they move, the more likely something is to come apart somewhere. Some areas of the body are more mobile than others (the shoulders are the most mobile joint in the body) and are therefore more prone to range of motion injuries like dislocation.
      Hypermobile joints have more range of motion than they should and can be an amusing party trick when you’re young, like when someone shows off how “double jointed” they are, but they are an injury waiting to happen.
      Consult a professional to find out which muscles to strengthen to help stabilize the joint(s).
      Don’t: Take your joints beyond a normal range of motion, or overstretch.
      Hypomobile joints don’t have as much range of motion as they should, so if the body is going to function normally, other muscles and joints have to do extra work to compensate. This can lead to injury in the areas that are compensating.
      Stretch daily, maintain relaxed musculature (Pssstttt… massage can help with that), and warm up before exercise.
      Don’t: Forget to stretch, overstretch, or over-strengthen.
    • Endurance – You can also call this conditioning. Good conditioning/endurance allows you to sustain your activity level,  and it significantly improves quality of life by improving your body’s ability to function. Many people find that, through a combination of neurological, structural, mental, emotional, and muscular factors, their pain improves as their endurance increases.
      Avoid: Prolonged sitting, excessive inactivity, and pushing yourself too hard.
      Do: Engage in conditioning exercises such as running, walking, or swimming, try interval training, slowly increase the distance/intensity of your workout, and slowly increase the amount time you spend exercising.
    • Genetics – There’s nothing you can do about the genes you’re born with, but you can sometimes influence the way they manifest. For instance, if you have a gene that predisposes you to high cholesterol and you eat a high fat diet chances are excellent that you’ll end up with high cholesterol. However, if you eat a low fat diet and maintain a healthy weight, you run an excellent chance of not having any issues with your cholesterol. (Yes, the example is over-simplified but you get the picture.) Genetics is also important because some conditions bring with them a higher than average chance that you’ll develop other health problems. Without some very expensive testing, it’s impossible to know which genes you have that will predispose you to which conditions. But take heart, you can still do many things to stay healthy.
      Do this: Take stock of health trends in your family to know what you may be at risk for, eat a healthy diet, get enough exercise, manage any health conditions you have to the best of your ability, and maintain a healthy weight.
      Don’t do this: Eat a high fat and/or high sugar diet, fail to manage any health conditions you may have, or lead an inactive lifestyle.
    • Injury – Sometimes injury is truly an accident that you couldn’t prevent, and there’s nothing to be done but take care of yourself so you can heal. But sometimes, dare I say often times, injury is preventable. If we hadn’t been distracted, rushed, or in a cluttered or otherwise unsafe environment, we wouldn’t have tripped, bumped into something, or crashed the car/bike/skateboard. And we wouldn’t have been injured.
      Do: Practice moderation to prevent injury, avoid repetitive tasks, drive safely, pay attention to your surroundings, wear safety equipment, and stay active.
    • Avoid: Risky or extreme behaviors and activities, multi-tasking (especially when driving or engaging in sport activities), over-medicating, mind altering chemicals, and inactivity after injury (except for fractures).

    Now it’s time to honestly evaluate if you have more dos than don’ts in your life. Don’t freak out if you have a high percentage of don’ts, many people do. But, likewise, don’t get too full of yourself if your balance is tipped toward the dos. Remember, this is just a starting point, and only the first of 7 life areas you’re going to evaluate. Your ultimate goal is to have roughly 80% dos to 20% don’ts in each area. 

    Did you notice a particular category being worse than the others, or one don’t that would be easy to change to a do? If so, why not start there by making one small change today that will put you on the path to that optimal balance of 80% dos : 20% don’ts.

    While you work on that, it’s be great if you would share this with everyone you know using the share buttons just below the post.