Stress and Pain – From an Oakville Physio

It’s getting close to the home stretch of 2018 which can be a pretty stressful time of the year. The seasons are changing – getting closer and closer to the dreaded winter – the school year has started, everyone is adjusting to new fall schedules and thinking about end of year deadlines. One of the not so pleasant consequences of stress is increased pain levels. Have you ever noticed that when your stress level is high, your pain tends to be worse and vice versa?

What is Stress?

Though there are many negative connotations around “stress”, its not necessarily a bad thing. Stress is the body’s response to a harmful situation – also called the “fight-or-flight” response. During this response, your heart rate and blood pressure rise, your breath gets faster and your muscles tighten. A little bit of stress is ok – this response allows the body to protect itself. However, when the stress response is persistent for prolonged periods, it can lead to some unpleasant symptoms such as increased agitation, difficulty sleeping, low energy, headaches and pain. 

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How are Stress and Pain Related?

Pain is obviously an unpleasant feeling. Being in pain in and of itself can be a stressful situation. You’re uncomfortable, you may have difficulty sleeping – both of which can lead to stress. Being stressed for prolonged periods can tense up different muscle groups which can increase the level of pain you feel, which increases your stress… and it ends up being a negative cycle. 

If pain lasts long enough or becomes chronic, it can affect your ability to participate in your hobbies, in social activities and maybe even your job. This can lead to feelings of hopelessness, increasing stress levels, and may even cause financial stressors on your life as well. 

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How Can I Decrease My Stress Levels?

There is no one way to alleviate stress. Each person is different, and it may take some experimenting to find a management strategy that works best for you. 

  • Stay active – light to moderate exercise releases endorphins in your body which positively affect your mood. Aim to be physically active for about 30 minutes a day
  • Sleep – easier said than done but a good night’s sleep will allow your body to restore and be more able to handle the stress of day to day life
  • Get a massage – our registered massage therapists can assess and treat muscle tension 

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  • Relaxation Techniques – try some deep breathing exercises to help release tension. Also, stay tuned for a blog post about meditation
  • Seek support – stress can affect your quality of life. Talking to someone, whether it be a friend, family member or a mental health professional, can help you better cope with stress

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Your Oakville Physiotherapist may discuss these strategies with you as part of your overall treatment plan. They also will likely discuss what barriers may be present in you life and strategies to overcome them. Much of what can be done as part of your Physio treatment plan, should be followed up in some capacity at home.