Stress-related injuries are becoming increasingly common. The workload and hours are often extremely high, combined with a social life to maintain. This often means less sleep, unhealthy eating and less exercising / moving. Ending up in this vicious circle can create a lot of problems
To effectively resolve these issues, it is important to know what stress actually is.
For many people stress is a ‘bad’ thing. However, stress is actually essential for human growth and development.
Examples of stress or tension-related problems are:
- Constant stiffness in the neck and shoulders
- Tingling fingers and hands
- Rushed feeling that doesn’t go away
- Feeling tired all the time
- Burn-out symptoms
- Recurring lower back pain
- Stomach and intestinal problems
- Sleep problems
- Decreased energy / libido
- Binge eating
What is stress?
Stress is anything that disrupts homeostasis (internal balance in the human body) and stimulates the sympathetic nervous system. These stressors can be of a physical (eg training) and mental (eg work stress) nature.
Exposure to dosed amounts of stress allows for adaptation, making it essential for human growth and development.
As long as you can manage these stressors and there is balance. When there is an imbalance, stress can be detrimental to performance and can lead to injury, (chronic) pain, stress and burnout-like symptoms.
You can have the best trainers, therapists or doctors in the world, but if your body is unable to recover from the stressor, what you are doing is of no use.
A better understanding of stress and relaxation will improve your body awareness and recognize problems at an earlier stage.
Autonomic nervous system
Stress has everything to do with your nervous system, especially the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is responsible for your ‘automatic’ processes such as digestion, respiration, organ function, etc.
You can divide the autonomic nervous system into the sympathetic part and the para-sympathetic part. The sympathetic part, also called the Freeze, Fight of Flight part , is responsible for everything that requires energy, such as movement.
The parasympathetic part, also called the Rest & Digest part , is responsible for everything that creates energy so you can recover.
Restoring the balance between stress and relaxation, sympathetic and parasympathetic activity, is the foundation of health and forms the basis of Art of Physio’s treatment program.
In our daily life we are constantly (over) stimulated. This often results in a constant sympathetic dominance. A constant sympathetic dominance affects a person’s physical, mental and endocrine state and will make you more susceptible to injury, pain or burnout. Symptoms of sympathetic dominance are:
- Increased muscle tone, especially in neck, shoulder and hips
- Tooth grinding,
- Increase bloodpressure (>125/85),
- Increased resting heartrate,
- bloated feeling,
- digestive problems,
- difficulty losing weight,
- Feeling tired and lethargic,
- Disturbed breathing rhythm and patterns
When people are burnt out, in most cases there is a sympathetic dominance.
How best to handle this?
To recover and heal from the stressor and / or injury optimally, the body must be in a parasympathetic state of relaxation. The more stressors you have, the more you need to do on the relaxation or relaxation side to create a balance.
Relaxation does not mean doing nothing.
There are multiple things you can do yourself to relax and increase recovery:
- Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. It is that important. Aim for 7-9 hours
- Strength training. Dosed intensity strength training allows for stronger muscles and a balanced endocrine system.
- Cardio. Walking, running, cycling, rowing. You name it. A couple times a week. Start with a low intensity.
- Breathing exercises. Breathing exercises are one of the fastest tools to instantly take you into a more relaxed state.
- Use positive words. Your thoughts and the words you say and think have a major influence on how you experience certain situations and thus how you deal with stress.
Learning to deal with stress better is in many cases a big part of the solution. So it’s not about HAVING stress, but HOW you deal with it.
What often goes wrong?
What often goes wrong when it comes to stress management is that people want to fight fire with fire. Had a stressful and busy day at work? Go to the gym to train hard for an hour because “it clears my head”. While the logic behind it is understandable, such an approach often backfires. You are literally burning yourself out with this.
If you are already under significant stress and you are going to add even more stress, how will you ever relax and recover? Answer? Not.
So you will have much more benefit from workouts with a lower intensity combined with mobility work, stretching and breathing exercises. Try that out for a few weeks and see how you feel!
Does that mean you can never train hard again? No. Definitely not! As the balance recovers, you will be able to train harder again. Health first! Training is a means for health, not the other way around.
Signs that tell you you’re going in the wrong direction:
- If, despite the amount of training, you increasingly suffer from (recurring) injuries
- When you have reached a plateau and make little progress
- When your recovery time after training increases
- If training isn’t fun anymore
When treating stress-related complaints, it is important to look beyond the painful area. Improving your lifestyle, nutrition, exercise and mindset are all important parts of the treatment.
It is our job as physiotherapists to restore the balance in your life and give you the tools to maintain the balance yourself.
If you have any questions about your stress-related complaint, please contact one of our therapists.
Often we can already give you useful tips that immediately reduce your complaints.