We have heard that stress kills, correct? There is more to the story. Stress is beneficial for your body until it becomes chronic, meaning constant all day, every day. Most think of stress as a person worrying over money, health, family, or any of the big things. However, chronic stress can begin with worrying about meeting your appointments on time, hitting deadlines, fretting over everything that irritates you, worrying about the state of the nation or world, and worrying about what could happen next. So many people are in a constant state of worry and that leads to chronic stress. We know that too much chronic stress can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and a general sense of not feeling quite right. Did you know that chronic stress can contribute to joint stiffness and back pain too? Today I will talk how that happens and how you can improve your stiffness and your mind through stretching.
How Does Chronic Stress Lead to Stiffness?
Living in a state of chronic stress places your brain into the “fight or flight” response, meaning your brain places the muscles in a contracted state as it decides whether you need to run from the danger or fear, or stand and fight the danger or fear. Think of it this way. Imagine every day having to physically fight your way out of your neighborhood to get to work and then physically fight your way back into your neighborhood to get home. How stressful would that make your life?
As your muscles stay in a contracted state, they can compress the spine and joints, place pressure on nerves, and the stress will affect your immune system leaving you susceptible to inflammation. We think of inflammation in terms of heart disease, but inflammation can also make your joints and spine feel stiff. This can zap your energy level as it becomes harder just to put one foot in front of the other. This is why most people suffering from stiffness are always feeling fatigued.
The muscle stiffness causes the joint to lose the synovial fluid, a WD40 type substance the body puts into joints for lubrication and pulls the bones closer together. The synovial fluid acts as a lubricating and cushioning agent for the joint. When the synovial fluid is squeezed out of the joint due to tight muscles, your joints will ache and crack with movement. You might be diagnosed with arthritis or osteoarthritis. As the bones get closer together, the risk of damaging the cartilage at the ends of the bones is very high. We have all heard of a knee being bone-on-bone, right? This is a case of the synovial fluid being squeezed out, cartilage being damaged, and bones rubbing onto each other. All are created, initially, by tight muscles, unless trauma is involved.
Many people with joint or back pain may be given physical therapy followed by injections or pain pills, and then surgery. Usually, when a joint gets to bone-on-bone, surgery is the only answer, but what if we could slow that process down? What if we began looking at the movements of the body that could lead a person to such an injury and changed the movements to prevent the ultimate injury?
Our health care system is slow with prevention but awesome with solving a problem once the damage is done. Keep in mind that a hundred years ago most people didn’t live much past sixty years old, so the need to replace a joint for someone fifty-five or sixty wasn’t very high. Not to mention, the know-how wasn’t there. either. Today most of us are living to eighty and ninety years old. So, if we wear out a joint in our fifties or sixties, it is worth replacing and we can do it in minutes, not hours. This allows us to remain active for the rest of our lives–or does it?
The problem here is, the patient and healthcare staff are still thinking about healthcare like we did years before. The patient needs to be a part of the process. Rehab is meant to educate you about how to take care of your body for the rest of your life. Even if the pain has gone, you must continue to do the work to prevent the pain from coming back. Just like your original joint, the new one can still be damaged, and that is a shortcoming of our traditional treatments.
How to Stretch to Relieve Stiffness from Chronic Stress
There are several things you can do to reduce your chronic stress to just normal stress, which happens once in a while. Mindset plays a huge role in reducing chronic stress. Everything doesn’t have to happen right now. Patience is a virtue, I have been told. Think about the situation you are in and don’t just react to the outcome. Learning to sit quietly and think about your life, without judgment, can go a long way in reducing chronic stress. Being grateful for who you are and the people in your life on a daily basis can keep you in tune with your inner self. You may want to try meditation, Tai Chi, or Qi Gong for help.
Diet plays a key role in stress. Eating processed foods high in sugar places your body on a roller coaster. Many people are just going from one sugar high to another. Eating a less inflammatory diet can relax the body and help it to burn more fat, which will make you feel better about yourself. Eating a more plant-based diet will allow the body and brain to heal faster and feel better.
Of course, stretching needs to always be a part of your life. You do not have to be perfect and never forget that stretching is not competitive. Learning to just let go of your emotions is so freeing mentally and physically. Releasing the tension in your brain will release the tension in your muscles, allowing the joint to be more lubricated and the spine to move more freely. This will help reduce the feeling of stiffness and pain.
I have added two more stretches below to add to your list of stretches. When stretching, relax, breathe out, and just release the tension and emotions from your body. You will be amazed how much better you feel.
Tips to Improve your Stretching
All you need is a yoga strap and a tennis ball for the tennis ball massage. Give yourself about 15 minutes twice a day and you should see better results within 2 weeks. This, though, is a lifetime event. Think of your pet. they stretch everyday and several times a day. Stretch when they stretch. Follow the videos below and free your knees. In my opinion, the calf stretch is the most important stretch a human can do. It will solve many issues of the body.
Stretching is more about feeling the muscles letting go than forcing them to stretch. If you are forcing the muscle, you could be doing strength training, not stretching. Make sure you are feeling the intended muscle stretching. If not, the form could be wrong. Holding for 5 seconds allows the brain to release the muscle before it senses any danger. Repeating the stretches 10 times allows the brain to learn it is safe for the muscle to move that way.
Don’t forget the Tennis Ball Massage!
Softening your hips and back is easy when you use the tennis ball. Just lean against the wall and apply enough pressure to feel the painful area. The temptation is to press harder, but resist it. Instead, breathe out and allow the muscle to soften under the ball. Then move to another spot and repeat. Continue doing this until most of the painful spots are gone. Check out previous newsletters to see the video.
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About The Muscle Repair Shop
Drawing upon his personal experience as a former competitive athlete turned wheelchair, obese, and chronic pain sufferer, Muscle Repair Shop Founder Butch Phelps decided to take his health into his own hands when at the age of 36 he was told he might not make it to his 40th birthday. Applying balanced nutrition advice from his doctor along with a sound exercise program, he went from 315 lbs. to 180 lbs. Motivated by his experience, he then acquired degrees in advanced therapeutic massage and aging sciences to help people eliminate chronic pain. This included applying his expertise in how people age, including the effects of dementia, anatomy, psychology, and the day-to-day struggles living as an older person to his practice and development of The Muscle Repair Shop’s one-of-a-kind Stretch n’ Release Technique.
Available through in-office and virtual coaching treatment sessions, this unique combination of stretching and breath work teaches the brain to release the emotional side of muscle tension and pain allows clients to find lasting relief and healing from stiffness, aches, injuries, and chronic pain. The at-home exercises come with customized instructional videos and virtual or in-office support, allowing clients to enjoy and experience life and sports as they did before limitations slowed or curtailed activities.