- How Does Stress Lead to Shoulder and Back Pain?
- Can Stress Cause Shoulder and Back Pain?
- Behavior Aggravates the Situation
- Stress and Pain Negatively Impacts Life
According to the Institute of Stress, 83 percent of U.S. employers suffer from work-related stress. A Gallup poll found that 60 percent of American adults experience daily stress and worry. Frequent feelings of stress affect people in different ways, including creating back tension and shoulder pain. The pain can make it difficult to work and perform daily activities, so it is important to manage the stress to reduce the strain and pain on the back and shoulders.
How Does Stress Lead to Shoulder and Back Pain?
Stress is a complicated experience that involves physical and psychological factors. It can affect your body, your mental health, and your behavior. There are many effects stress can produce, and two of the most common are muscle tension and muscle pain.
Stress is the body’s response to a perceived challenge that requires a response. It can be positive, keeping you alert and ready to act, or negative, keeping you in a heightened state of tension without relief. When it is negative, the stress-related tension increases, and the natural “fight or flight response” is activated for an extended period of time. The result is any of a variety of physical and emotional symptoms.
Symptoms include general aches and pain, teeth grinding, headaches, and muscle tension in the face, neck, or shoulders, to name a few. It can also cause tight muscles in the back.
Can Stress Cause Shoulder and Back Pain?
During periods of stress, three main hormones are released which lead to physical and mental responses: adrenaline, cortisol, norepinephrine.
- Body releases adrenaline (fight or flight hormone) to prepare the body to flee, if necessary
- Adrenaline increases the heart rate and blood pressure, and muscles tense
- Body releases the hormone cortisol (primary stress hormone) when the brain recognizes the threat
- Cortisol increases the glucose in the bloodstream and regulates other body functions
- Cortisol increases the availability of various substances that play a role in tissue repair
- Body releases norepinephrine, which is similar to adrenaline
- Norepinephrine increases mental awareness and focus and shifts blood flow to muscles so better able to flee
The hormones associated with the stress response are supposed to flow and ebb and not be continually released. When they remain at high levels due to frequent bouts of stress, the hormones will constrict blood vessels and reduce the blood flow to soft tissues, including muscles, tendons, and ligaments. This leads to tight or tense muscles. The muscles are unable to relax normally and are not getting the nutrients needed to stay healthy. Also called muscle rigidity, the muscles in the neck, shoulders, and around the spine tense in preparation for fleeing.
The shoulders and back have primary nerves and muscles running through them. When the muscles and nerves are put under stress, sore shoulders and back develop.
Behavior Aggravates the Situation
When muscles tense, people often change their behaviors in an attempt to manage the pain. They may not even realize what is happening, but the behaviors can make the pain worse.
- Tension in the neck leads to poor posture while sitting, leading to upper back stress, or poor posture (i.e. straining to look at a computer screen) creates neck muscle tension
- Due to stress, shoulders hunch up in natural protective action, but the hunching increases pain in the back
- Stress changes breathing patterns, leading to shoulder pain stress can induce
- People tend to become less active when under stress, straining their mid and lower back muscles and spine
Lack of regular exercise, poor diet, poor posture while sitting, and lack of stress management can lead to chronic stress.
Stress and Pain Negatively Impacts Life
Can stress cause shoulder pain? Yes! Can stress cause back pain? Yes! Can stress cause muscle pain? Yes! Often, people do not address stress until the neck, shoulder, and back pain becomes unbearable or interferes with work and other activities. It is important to see a doctor who will help you develop a plan for reducing the stress placed on muscles, tendons, and ligaments and to manage the pain.