The Role of Stress in Pain and Injury
One of the most common questions during a consultation is “How long will it take for me to get better?” This is not a straight forward question to answer as might be expected because there are many important factors to consider. As a general rule, the longer a person has had the symptoms and the more severe the symptoms, the longer it will take to respond to treatment.
One major influence on healing in the body is the level of stress the patient is under. While stress is normal in the short term and has little effect, when the body is under long-term chronic stress it can have particularly detrimental effects on health and healing.
The Effects of Chronic Stress
Stress creates a powerful neurotransmitter mix in the body. This mix is what the body needs to react to dangerous situations, but it becomes detrimental when we’re in this state chronically. However, people often become used to - and even grow to like - this state. It can make one feel powerful and energetic, with the need for less sleep and food. The person does not even realize the state of stress and underlying muscle tension.
The effects of chronic stress on the body are well understood. Stress affects nearly every function in the body by causing higher levels of stress hormones in the blood, particularly cortisol. Excessive output of stress hormones has a destructive effect on nerve tissue, muscle tissue and bone, thereby creating a chronic cycle of stress, pain and tissue injury. Prolonged high levels of stress hormones also weaken the immune system, damage the thyroid glands, and cause imbalances in blood sugar which can also make the body more vulnerable to illness, injury and increase recovery time.
It is also thought that stress affects people differently. While some people might not be significantly affected, others are more prone to the effects of stress depending on hereditary factors and the life events they experience. So, it is easy to see why stress plays an important role in injury rehabilitation and injury prevention and why it is so vital to try to manage levels of stress when you have an injury.
Pain & Injury: Signals from the Body
When we’re being affected by chronic stress, the friendly messenger known as pain comes in, to signal that something is wrong. Most painful conditions are caused by hypertension of the muscles due to ongoing stress. This hypertension makes us prone to injuries, even from activities we have done for a long time with no problems. If we are holding a great deal of muscle tension, our posture and biomechanics function inefficiently. The results can show up as acute injury, “wear” issues and inflammation, chronic pain, and difficulty healing.
Life in Shanghai
While there are many benefits to living in Shanghai as an expat, there’s also increased exposure to new stressors. Some of these include new work culture, a different language, and the loss of one’s previous support network. If you’re also unable to tap into normal stress-controlling rituals, such as walks in the countryside, sports, hobbies and visiting friends and family, this can make you more vulnerable to the long-term effects of stress.
Stress Reduction and Healing
What can you do if you have an injury and want to reduce stress in your life to help speed up your recovery? Fortunately, there are many simple things you can do to help yourself. Exercise, try to eat a balanced diet, and drink alcohol in moderation. You can visit a friend, listen to music, get in touch with nature by going for a walk in the park, meditate or even just sit quietly for a short period a few days each week, out of the reach of your phone or email.
Such lifestyle adaptations reduce the level of stress hormones in your blood. They also have the added benefit of increasing the level of endorphins and oxytocin in your body, which acts as natural pain killers, strengthening your immune system. This can help you sleep better, reducing the feeling of fatigue and leading to a feeling of wellbeing. It will help to restore your body’s natural self-healing ability and get you back quickly to a normal, active, pain-free life.
Getting to the Root of the Problem
We work with patients to find the origin of the pain or injury. Then, a patient who is motivated to get rid of the pain permanently can achieve long-term healing. To do so, we use a holistic approach with a personalized combination of western medical treatments, osteopathy, physical therapy/training, stress reduction and lifestyle changes.
If you’d like to make an appointment, get in touch with us via WeChat or inquire for an appointment online.