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Stress, Neck and Back Pain
Gregg C. Anderson, D.C.

      Most people 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. 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 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 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)! 

    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 ever have. 
As a chiropractor in Sacramento CA, USA for over 20 years now, I have seen many people find the relief they were looking for. Many patients in our Sacramento Chiropractic Clinic mention that, after they started getting adjusted, that they never knew they could feel so good again.
Have a great month!

Copyright Gregg C. Anderson, D.C. 2008

Sacramento Chiropractor / Sacramento Chiropractic /

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