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Sacramento Chiropractic Neck Pain Relief - How stress builds up and causes tension and pain.

Gregg C. Anderson, D.C.

Most people in Sacramento are curious about how neck and back tension builds up. In a nutshell, it is caused by stress. Stress comes in many shapes, sizes, types and names. You can probably think of some names already! Stress to the mind and body comes in three basic forms: emotional, chemical and physical.

This article will focus on the most common form, emotional stress. Read below to learn how this kind of stress can create physical stress on the spine and nerves.

Stress has been defined as any demand you must contend with. Hans Selye, the "father" of modern stress theory described the physical effects of too much bad stress in terms of sickness and disease. He called it "general adaptation syndrome." Simply put, with too many demands or changes in your life and no chance to rebalance, you get sick.

Good stress is sometimes called eustress, which only sheep can get (I know, baaad joke). Bad stress is sometimes called distress, which everyone else gets.

Your body comes equipped with an incredible nervous system to take care of you. The autonomic nervous system controls the functioning of all of your blood vessels, organs and glands without conscious effort and having to think about it. It has two parts: the sympathetic nervous system and the para-sympathetic nervous system. These two systems keep us alive.

The sympathetic system has also been called the "fight or flight" system. It is activated when you have a stressor or a demand to contend with. The parasympathetic system can be considered the "rest and digest" system. It is activated when your body is resting, replenishing and repairing itself.

In an ideal day, both are somewhat equally active at different times and in relative balance. Your body responds to the demands of the day and also "rests and digests" so you can rejuvenate, regenerate and literally live to meet the demands of another day!

With eustress, there is a conscious awareness of control and confidence. It is invigorating and often fun. The demand on your mind and body is not overwhelming or scary. Being under your control, the demand is over when you want it to be. For example, after an hour or so of enjoyable activity, you might just switch-gears, activate your para-sympathetic system, enjoy some lunch and then "rest and digest."

With distress, there is often little conscious awareness of control or confidence in handling the demand. It is not even remotely fun. It can be overwhelming and scary. It can come from many sources. Not being under our complete control, the demand does not always end when we want it to and it can become difficult to shift gears and rest.

For example, under times of distress, even though you might eat, the nervous system is too busy in fight or flight mode thus the rest and digest function becomes limited. Digesting your lunch is low priority when your life is at stake! It's no surprise that some of the more popular over-the-counter and prescription drugs are for indigestion and ulcers.

When there is a stressful demand to contend with, your fight or flight system is activated and it prepares your mind and body for a physical battle. Your heart beats faster. Your blood pressure rises. The stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol are activated and flood into your blood stream. The blood vessels in the large muscle groups in your arms, legs and back are dilated to allow more oxygen delivery. Your shoulders are unconsciously tensed-up and elevated. A host of other physical changes are made as well and viola, you are ready to slay the dragon!

The problem, of course, is that the "dragon" sometimes comes in the form of a spouse, or a boss, or another driver on Watt Avenue, or…_________(write-in your favorite). It's usually not a good plan to have a physical battle with most of these various dragons. As a result, when your body is prepared for a battle that never happens, the stress energy builds up, tension develops, and it eventually wears your body down.

That build-up of emotional and resulting muscle tension is especially notable around your back and neck. Not surprisingly, at one time or another, you've probably described some of your very own stressors as a "pain in the neck" or a "pain in the back" (or worse)!  The upper shoulder muscle, the trapezius,  goes all the way up to the top of the neck. It often tightens-up, and gets painful knots in it. Now visualize your trapezius muscle like a rope that goes from your shoulder up your neck and attaches to the spinal vertebrae. Now imagine that the rope has a big knot right in the middle of it.  Can you see how it would rip and pull on your spine and cause it to get tight and restricted, and start to compress and irritate your nerves?  That's what happens! Not good.

My suggestion is to put your hands on the necks and upper backs of your loved ones and see if you detect any tension, knots and sore muscles. Perhaps go a step further and see if any neck movements are restricted, cause popping sounds or are uncomfortable. While you're at it, give them a little back rub, and if you're really concerned about them, make them an appointment for a stress-free chiropractic check-up. Chiropractors are experts at finding tension build-up in the back and adjustments can be the ultimate stress reliever. 

A chiropractic check-up could be the most important exam they or you ever have.  Check out our internet special. You can get started by with our online forms in the New Patient Center on the home page. No stress!

Copyright Gregg C. Anderson, D.C. 2008

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