The Effects of Stress on Muscles and Joints

Stress is a regular part of life for almost everyone. You’re definitely not alone! Especially in a post-pandemic world, there are so many extra stressors present that weren’t there to worry about back in 2019. Parents are juggling childcare while trying to work from home, there are people without jobs, there are people trying to overcome serious illnesses and side effects from the COVID-19 virus. The list goes on. But as our sources of stress increase tenfold, many are still left wondering how to overcome it—or at least manage it.

Depending on the cause of your stress, it may lead to positive or negative outcomes. For some, occasional stress can help provide a boost of motivation to complete a project or enhance performance in a competitive event. On the other hand, stress can hurt. When left unchecked, high-stress levels can cause a range of body aches and pains, which can quickly become unpleasant and even difficult to manage.

It is important to clarify the role stress plays in joint and muscle discomfort. Stress itself does not cause physical damage to your muscles and joints. However, prolonged and uncontrolled stress can lead to a range of unpleasant and painful side effects that seem to camp in specific places throughout the body. When your body (and brain) experience stress, your muscles tense up. Often, you may not realize you are clenching your jaw or that the muscles in your neck and shoulders are rigid and tense. When the stress goes away, so does the tension. Unfortunately, when you struggle with excessive, chronic, or recurring stress, the body never has an adequate opportunity to relax.

How Stress Affects the Muscles and Joints

The human body comprises more than 650 muscles and an average of 360 joints (in adult bodies). When you experience a stressful situation or event, a specific chemical reaction occurs in the body that causes all of your muscles to tense at the same time. Referred to as the “fight or flight response," this is the human body's way of guarding against injury or pain. Unfortunately, this response can occur whether the threat is truly dangerous or a symptom of daily stressors.

Chronic stress results in the muscles being constantly “on guard.” When your muscles are tight and restricted for an extended period, it can trigger other reactions in the body and promote long-term stress-related problems. Think about when you’re working. Are you relaxed and practicing proper posture, or are you tense and hunched over your desk for hours at a time?

Common examples of muscle and joint-related pain resulting from stress include pain in your lower back, upper extremities (such as your shoulders, elbows, and wrists) neck pain, tension headaches or migraine headaches, hip pain, and jaw pain.

Simple Stress Relief Techniques

Yoga class

Avoiding lasting damage to your joints and muscles requires both stress-relieving skills and muscle relaxation techniques. There are several things you can do to actively reduce muscle tension and reduce your risk of developing lasting stress-related disorders such as headaches, joint damage, and other chronic musculoskeletal conditions.

While it is virtually impossible to eliminate all stressful factors from our lives, there are ways to reduce and ease the symptoms of stress, helping to reduce the impacts of stress on your body.

  1. First, identify your triggers. Having a better understanding of those circumstances, people, or even body positions throughout the workday that cause joint pain and discomfort can help you limit their impact in the future. Once you understand the circumstances or things that cause you stress, you can actively attempt to avoid them or at least reduce your interactions with them.
  2. Next, consider your diet and activity levels. A healthy diet is vital to maintaining a healthy weight but also reducing inflammation levels in your body. When you reduce inflammation, you also reduce pain. Incorporating low-impact activities such as walking and yoga into your daily routine can help you keep your muscles lean, well stretched, and pain-free.
  3. Lastly, make sure you’re prioritizing a little R&R for yourself to help ease stress and give yourself a chance to let your guard down. For those of you who work, remember to get up from your desk every so often to take a few deep breaths and stretch out. Small breaks for your sanity will go a long way toward improving both mental and physical health.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy

You may also consider visiting your local orthopaedist or physical therapist. Seeking professional help can help you learn new ways to reduce the impacts of stress on your body. Your physical therapist can teach you new skills to actively stretch your muscles, release stress on your joints, and improve your overall health and well-being.

Request an Appointment for Joint Pain Relief and Management

To learn new ways to manage stress or to help alleviate the painful symptoms of stress-related effects on your muscles and joints, contact the professionals at OrthoUnited today. Our skilled team of treatment professionals is here to help you reduce stress-related pain today and provide you with the tools you need to do so in the future.

Sources: NCBI