Stress-related pain and idiopathic disorders
When the body’s stress response is turned on, your body releases a cocktail of hormones which speed up your heart rate and cause many other physical side-effects.
While these natural responses can be helpful in real stressful situations, over time, they can negatively impact health and wellbeing, particularly the various pains and idiopathic disorders. Recent studies found strong direct causal relationships between stress, anxiety, pain and many other idiopathic disorders.
Back, chest, shoulder and neck pain, stiffness, tension, pressure, body aches, spasms, immobility, tremors or discomfort, pulsations or pulsations, frequent headaches and migraines are the most well-known manifestations of stress, anxiety and other negative emotions in your body.
However, it is good to know that stress and anxiety are not normative concepts, nor are they diseases in themselves. Although your stress and anxiety are not imaginary, there is no laboratory test available to confirm or measure them. Yet you feel them, and therefore you are best positioned to assess whether or not you feel stressed or anxious.
When stress and anxiety become very intense or chronic, they can have an impact on the somatic (physical) health of your musculoskeletal system. As the nervous system modulates the physiological functions including pain signaling and musculoskeletal system, and as the brain takes into account the emotional state in all that it does, the strong emotions always end up having an impact not only on mood and behavior, but also on the proper functioning of the musculoskeletal system and on the etiopathogenesis of all kinds of musculoskeletal and idiopathic health issues.
Emotions are not just mental states and emotional feelings. Today's view of emotions is that emotions are experienced at four different, but closely interrelated levels: the mental or psychological level (the brain), the physiological level (the chemistry of your body), the somatic level (bodily emotional feelings), and the behavioral level. These complementary aspects are present in all human emotions, even in the most basic ones like stress, fear and anxiety.
The scientific study of emotion and of the bodily changes that accompany diverse emotional experience, known as psychosomatic medicine, marks a relatively new era in medicine. The central concept of psychosomatic medicine is the scientific fact that mind and body are integral aspects of all human function. The term ‘psychosomatic disorder’ is used for a physical disease that is thought to be triggered, made worse or caused by emotional factors. To an extent, most diseases are considered psychosomatic, as there is an emotional aspect to every physical disease.
Activating the body’s stress response causes you to become tense and more resilient in order to fight or flee a danger. It also creates a cascade of chemical changes in the body, which in turn, lead to muscle tension, muscle spasm and consequent back, shoulder and neck pain. Stress and musculoskeletal pain creates a vicious circle. The greater the intensity of the stress response, the tighter the muscles are likely to become.
Any muscle, or group of muscles can suffer the consequences of stress, particularly those in the neck, shoulders, upper, mid and lower back. The muscles become strained, particularly at the tendons where they join the bone at the back of the skull resulting in painful and aching shoulders and a sore neck. If the stress is persistent, the muscles can become so tight that chronic pain, stiffness and soreness are likely to ensue. Furthermore if they remain in this state of tension for some time, muscles are more susceptible to spasm and further strain, which will exacerbate any existing weaknesses.
As you already know, rather than passively observing what happens to you, your subconscious mind is actually in charge of the proper functioning of your conscious mind and your body through the regulatory mechanisms of your autonomous nervous system. When you feel relaxed and safe, the sympathetic branch of the autonomous nervous system kicks in and your body is nourished, healed and energy is restored. Whenever you are facing a threat, the parasympathetic branch of the autonomous nervous system kicks in and the stress response will mobilize all your resources for your survival inbuilt fight or flight response.
While you are in the middle of a stress response, the stress response will mobilize all your resources for your survival, and your body's nourishing, restorative, maintenance and self-repair functions come to a screeching halt. Unfortunately, when the threat is imaginary, the subconscious mind doesn't realize that there is no real threat. Over time, when this stress response is repetitively triggered by imaginary threats, nature's biological response ends up doing more harm than good.
Long term, if your body is not properly nourished, restored, maintained and repaired, the effects of chronic wear and tear on your body takes its toll and you will end up mentally and physically sick. Therefore, by releasing stress and anxiety, your body creates a loop of positive feedback through the autonomic nervous system, feedback that can rebalance your sympathetic and parasympathetic branches and lead so to significant improvement in symptoms of your stress and anxiety related autoimmune conditions. The degree of improvement you can reasonably expect by relieving your persistent stress and anxiety depends on how much you feel that your emotional state affects your health issues.
When dealing with a fractured bone, the standard medical approach is to align and immobilize the bone and let it heal, because this ancestral approach works on all bones. However, when dealing with stress and anxiety, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach. Therefore the psychiatry, psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, neuro-linguistic-programming, emotional freedom tapping, pet therapy, art-therapy, mindfulness, yoga, craniosacral therapy, gravity blanket, mini-horses therapy and many other approaches based on very contradictory and yet scientific concepts, are all available to solve emotional issues.
Chronic, intense or repetitive stress and anxiety can lead to various emotional troubles and even psychiatric or physical medical conditions. According to the American Psychosomatic Society “… there is no such thing as psychosomatic disease. All disease can be looked at from this point of view”.
The following pains and idiopathic conditions may be aggravated, triggered or even caused by anxiety and stress, or may be conditions for which you may be at increased risk if you are exposed to prolonged or intense stress and anxiety.
Anxiety can destroy your life: "During a panic or anxiety episode the muscles go into severe involuntary spasms and this can cause small tears in the muscle fibres. These muscle spasms are the cause of the headaches, backaches, tight chest and feeling of tiredness. The tiredness is a result of the muscles being tight for days or weeks and the effect is similar to doing many hours of heavy weight training."
Body Parts that are often pained by stress: “Studies have found those who experience stress and anxiety, tense and constrict their muscles, causing fatigue and cramps over time. You may be familiar with conditions such as headaches and IBS resulting from stress, but its adverse effects can be further reaching. Stress-related symptoms can result from unresolved emotional problems. Studies have shown that chronic pain might not only be caused by physical injury but also by stress and emotional issues. Often, physical pain functions to warn a person that there is still emotional work to be done.”
Back Pain "Back pain can be stress related. Anxiety and Stress can cause back pain, stiffness, tension, pressure, soreness, muscle spasms or immobility in the back. When people are experiencing bouts of stress or anxiety, muscle tighten leading to spasms and spinal misalignment. When the muscles tighten, it squises the blood vessels reducing the blood flow and causes pain."
Back Pain "No one would disagree that having back and neck pain causes stress, but what about the other way around? Can stress be the primary cause of your back pain? Dr. Sarno theorizes that stress can manifest as muscle tension and spasms which cause severe back pain. While it's only a theory, many spine professionals do believe that stress can be the primary cause of back pain."
Stress-induced inter-vertebral disc degradation: "Inter-vertebral disc degeneration (IDD) is a pathological process that is the primary cause of low back pain and is potentially mediated by compromised stress defense mechanism. Stress can induce inter-vertebral disc degeneration by promoting cell apoptosis and extracellular matrix (ECM) degradation. Therefore, the stress induced suppression of Sestrins might serve as an important cellular homeostasis mechanism in the process of inter-vertebral disc degeneration."
Studies highlight lasting effects of early life stress on the genome, gut, and brain: "Excessive stress during fetal development or early childhood can have long-term consequences for the brain, from increasing the likelihood of brain disorders and affecting an individual's response to stress as an adult to changing the nutrients a mother may pass on to her babies in the womb. Childhood stress increases the chance of developing anxiety, depression, or drug addiction later in life by two to four times, while stress during pregnancy may increase the child's risk of developing autism spectrum disorder, as well as several other psychiatric illnesses. Scientists are discovering more about the mechanisms through which childhood or fetal stress disrupts brain development and leads to these disorders, which may help reveal new therapeutic strategies."
Childhood stress leaves lasting mark on genes : "Kids who experience severe stress are more likely to develop a host of physical and mental health problems by the time they reach adulthood, including anxiety, depression and mood disorders."
Cough "Many of us have experienced a feeling of something stuck in our throats. Your natural instinct is to try and cough it out. If you suffer from anxiety you know the unpleasant sensation of choking or being suffocated and coughing may seem to be the logical way of getting rid of the “obstruction”. The unpleasant truth is that when you suffer from anxiety the constant lump in your throat is not a physical thing that you can cough up."
Dizziness is often associated with stress and anxiety. “This is for a number of reasons. As stress increases, this can lead to changes in breathing rate, which in turn can change the CO2 levels in the blood. This isn’t dangerous but can cause physical symptoms like dizziness. In addition, the body’s response to stress involves the release of stress hormones. These hormones lead to various changes in the body that enhance our ability to deal with immediate threat (escape or fight – the ‘fight or flight’ response). One such response is that blood is re-directed to the areas that need it for ‘fight or flight’ – blood tends to be redirected from the head and this can lead to dizziness.”
Dystonia "Dystonia disorders cause involuntary movements and prolonged muscle contraction, resulting in twisting body motions, tremor, etc. Dystonia can occur as a result of emotional difficulties or due to a stress reaction."
Epigenetic changes from stress exposure can be passed from traumatized parent to offspring: The children of traumatized people have long been known to be at increased risk for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and mood and anxiety disorders. One of the most intensively studied groups in this regard are the children of survivors of the Nazi concentration camps. From the work of Yehuda and others, there has been growing evidence that concentration camp survivors and their children might show changes in the epigenetic regulation of genes. Children of traumatized parents are not simply born with a PTSD-like biology; they may inherit traits that promote resilience as well as vulnerability. This study raises important questions about the intergenerational transmission of traits from traumatized parents to their children.
Headache & Migraines "Emotional stress is one of the most common triggers of migraines and tension headaches. Migraine sufferers are generally found to be more emotional and highly affected by stressful events. During stressful events certain chemicals in the brain are released to combat the situation (known as the ‘fight or flight’ response). The release of these chemicals can provoke blood vessel changes that can cause migraine headaches."
The stress and migraine connection: "Research has suggested that stress may be a precursor in as many as 62 to 80 percent of migraine attacks. Other studies have shown that at least three out of every four patients with migraine believe that stress has acted as a direct catalyst for attacks. Those with chronic migraine have also reported higher levels of stress, with research showing that psychological anxiety in the several days leading up to a migraine attack plays an important role in migraine occurrence. Amazingly, stress can actually cause migraine to develop for certain patients with a higher risk for the headache disorder. Furthermore, stress may worsen migraine over time for those with episodic attacks and ultimately lead to increasing chronicity."
Ways stress can impact migraines: "A major stressful event, such as death or divorce, may cause someone’s first migraine attack. Stress can trigger migraine attacks. In some, stress makes a migraine attack worse. Some migraine sufferers say that stress makes migraine attacks last longer. Stress may cause more frequent migraine attacks. Stress can cause a migraine after the stressful situation ends, which occur after the sudden release of tension—sometimes called “weekend migraines”
Anxiety and stress related dizziness and vertigo: " Stress or anxiety may play a role in causing dizziness or, more commonly, may be a contributing factor in dizziness from other causes, such as inner ear diseases."
Low Back Pain "Factors that increase the risk of developing low back pain include smoking, obesity, older age, female gender, physically strenuous work, sedentary work, a stressful job, job dissatisfaction and psychological factors such as anxiety or depression."
Muscle Spasms "Since this symptom is caused by stress and how it affects the body, reducing your body’s stress is the best way to winnow out anxiety and stress caused muscle twitching. As your body’s stress diminishes, this symptom should diminish and eventually disappear."
Low Back Pain "A substantial proportion of patients who develop chronic low back pain have no identifiable structural pathology capable of explaining the pain. Pain specialists sometimes attribute the pain in these patients to unknown musculoskeletal factors; sometimes the term "idiopathic" is used and means that the cause is entirely unknown. Psychological factors often play a significant role in the development of and adaptation to chronic low back pain Pre-existing depression, anxiety and stress, together with lack of effective coping skills, may predispose individuals to back pain. Some believe that psychological factors such as these are primary causes of back pain. Distress, whether secondary to physical restriction or to pain, may aggravate the pain and thus the disability. A vicious cycle can be established in which pain causes stress or stress causes pain, and both produce more stress, anxiety and/or depression which causes more low back strain and pain."
Muscle Tension, Persistent Tight Muscles "Many of those who experience stress and anxiety comment about tight, sore, and painful muscles and/or muscle tension problems in the head and face, mouth, back of the head and neck, back and top of the shoulders, chest, arms, back, legs, hands, stomach, digestive system, elimination tract, groin, and feet, as well as others. Anxiety muscle tension, aches, and pains can persistently affect one area only, can shift and affect another area or areas, and can migrate all over and affect many areas over and over again. Anxiety muscle tension, aches, and pains can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist indefinitely"
Menstrual Cramps "Many women report that psychological stress worsens their menstrual pain. Chronic lifestyle stress can have wide-ranging effects on the body, including suppression of the immune system. Psychological stress can also worsen symptoms or delay healing in myriad medical conditions including asthma, cardiovascular disease, infections, and diabetes."
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS or SEID) "The cause of CFS if unknown. A large portion of cases are triggered by an infection and some by trauma. Stress is also present at the onset in almost all cases. Some people believe that CFS is caused by an agent entering the body, while others think it is due to the body's response, possibly to various agents. Since CFS can appear both in clusters and in individual cases, and because it manifests with a wide variety of symptoms and in a wide range of severities, some researchers suggest that CFS may prove to be several or even many illnesses. Future research will determine whether it is one or more illnesses."
Myofascial Pain Syndrome "Stress and anxiety - people who frequently experience stress and anxiety may be more likely to develop trigger points in their muscles which can lead to Myofascial Pain Disorder."
How stress might be ruining your teeth: ”Clenching or grinding the teeth, a common dental problem that can be related to stress, can cause headaches, chipped or flattened teeth, and tight jaw muscles.”
Stress induced chronic prostatitis and chronic pelvic pain syndrome. Stress and emotional health can be important causative factors in chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome (CP/CPPS). When a man experiences stress, anxiety, and tension it can elevate his prolactin levels, which can lead to damage of the immune system and cause inflammation. It can also cause an imbalance in the neuroendocrine system, leading to chronic pain. The tension that is brought on by stress and emotional health can lead to a chronic tension disorder, neuromuscular tension disorder, and other pelvic floor disorders, all which can cause pelvic pain and sometimes urinary, sexual, or bowel trouble.
Ringing in the ears (Tinnitus), stress and anxiety: This new research has found that many people report the onset of ringing in the ears (tinnitus) after experiencing a significant stress or anxiety. So elevated stress, such as , is a common cause of ringing in the ears. And this makes sense, since chronic stress, such as that caused by overly apprehensive behavior, increases the electrical activity in the amygdala, which is involved with auditory processing, it stands to reason that chronic stress and its effects can cause ‘phantom’ ringing in the ears due to the way chronic stress adversely affects neuronal production and electrical activity in the brain.
Stress in the classroom can be as contagious as the flu Stress, it seems, is contagious in the classroom—and it’s particularly virulent when transferred between teachers and students. Stress contagion theory posits that while human emotions may seem personal and internally generated, we are in fact biologically sensitive to the emotional tenor of those around us. When the prevailing mood of our company is negative, our bodies have the tendency to respond by releasing hormones that make us feel negative too. The phenomenon has already been observed occurring between mothers and their infants and between romantic partners.
Stiff-Person Syndrome "The association between SPS and anxiety disorders has been reported. Anticipatory anxiety is common in SPS patients, occurring in situations perceived as physically unsafe, such as crossing a busy street or walking unaided in open spaces. These situations may precipitate attacks of increasing stiffness or spasms that result in falls. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and phobic disorders have been described in patients with SPS."
Tension Headache "Stress is also an important factor in tension headaches. Tension headaches can either be episodic or chronic. Episodic tension headache is usually triggered by an isolated stressful situation or a build-up of stress. Daily stress such as from a high-pressure job can lead to chronic tension headaches."
Shoulder and Back Pain "A provocative new book suggest it's not physical problems that cause backache - but emotional tension. Stress and tension, which can come from a number of areas in our lives - family conflicts to stress at work, or even unrealistically high expectations of ourselves. This emotional stress expresses itself in painful physical tension - most commonly in the soft tissues in the neck, the top of the shoulders and shoulder blade, the lower back and the outside of the buttocks. This is where a slow accumulation of anxiety and stress over many months, even years, can cause the arrangement of muscles, nerves, tendons and ligaments to tighten and change - restricting blood and oxygen supply. Muscles deprived of oxygen can build up deposits of lactic acid, triggering pain, spasm, tingling or numbness."
Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome (TMJ) "TMJ refers to how the muscles you use to move your jaw and neck affect your temporomandibular joint in your jaw. Stress can aggravate TMJ by causing overuse of jaw muscles when clenching or grinding teeth (like bruxism). But even if you aren’t seeing signs of bruxism, you may still notice other symptoms of TMJ — such as jaw joint pain, popping and clicking of your jaw or inability to open and close your mouth easily. If you experience any of these, check with your dentist to see if TMJ may be the cause."
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Disclaimer: The above content is intended for general informational purposes and does not constitute any psychological or other medical professional advice. I don't diagnose medical conditions, nor do I interfere with any treatments given by your medical professional.
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