Is stress a common cause for back and neck pain?
This question is asked of me at least once a day. The answer is yes, but indirectly. Let me explain. There have been multiple papers written on the effects of stress on the musculoskeletal system. What they have found is that stress slows down, or inhibits, a particular set of nerves called slow motor units. These nerves are responsible for “turning on” or firing the stabilizing muscles of the spine.
Many people have heard the term “core” training. Core can be broken down into different sub sets, but two of them is inner and outer core. Now the muscles responsible for preparing our joints to move (before we move them) are the inner core muscles. These muscles are muscles of intention, meaning that before you do any movement or think about doing a movement, they tighten down the joint and put it in the correct position so you can do what ever it is you want to do.
Researchers have been able to show that when we are under stress the nerve units that supply these inner core muscles (the slow motor units) don’t work as efficiently, and often times are inhibited. So the inner core muscles are not activated. Instead, the outer core muscles take over. These muscles are designed to move the joints, not stabilize the joints. Under normal circumstances this is not a problem, but if you stay in this state for long periods of time the compensations occur. The joints will start to move abnormally and can be predisposed to injury.
Symptoms and Cures
What you would feel is muscle and joint stiffness. Or you might feel like if you could just get a good massage you would be great. So you stretch or get a massage and you feel wonderful, but it doesn’t last. A few days later the stiffness returns. What you are feeling is the outer core muscles tightening trying to do the work of the inner core, as well as their own job. The longer that the inner core muscles are inhibited or turned off the more vulnerable the joints they protect. If the joints begin to become restricted or irritated due to this abnormal control the nerves are further inhibited. The cycle continues until people have pain.
The research has also shown that if you restore normal motion back to the joints, this stimulates those same slow motor units to activate the inner core muscles. Now the joints are being protected again. With normal movement you are ready for the next stressful event. Chiropractic adjustments are one of the most effective ways to return motion back to a joint.
Dr. Paul Burns is a Chiropractor specializing in pain management and sports injuries. He has worked with many college and pro teams, including the Denver Broncos, the ATP and Wrangler Sports. His multidisciplinary practice is located in the Denver Tech Center and offers the latest in evidenced based practice methodology, techniques and technology.
For more information, visit www.DrPaulBurns.com and/or call 303-694-9759.