Most people have experienced back pain at some point in their lives, and we get to see many of them at SportsMed Physical Therapy. And while back pain frequently occurs after an injury, stress can also be a significant trigger.
Stress, in today’s day and age, can come from many sources. Stress can come from demands at work, the 24/7 demands of everyday life, family and emotional stress and even life crises such as divorce, job loss, moving, illness or the death of a loved one. In fact, stress can play a larger role in back pain than an actual injury.
When your body is under stress, the hypothalmus communicates to the adrenal glands (through nerves and hormones) to release a hormone called Cortisol. Cortsol is known as the stress hormone since it regulates our "flight or fight" response to various stimuli in the world around us.
Cortisol is responsible for a lot of healthy things relating to the body such as helping the digestive system in metabolizing carbohydrates and proteins. However, in cases of stress, it can work counter towards helping our bodies and more towards hindering us. Cortisol causes the nerves in major areas of the body, such as the stomach, digestive tract, and even large muscles, to tighten. This causes the individual to feel sick to their stomach or even have cramps in different areas of their bodies. Fortunately, this system is self-regulating, which means normal day-to-day stresses don't cause this to occur unless there is something within the normal parameters that is unusual and unknown or unprepared for by the individual.
How does stress manifest itself as pain in the lower back? When stress triggers your adrenal glands to respond for an extended period of time, they can become fatigued. This can affect the nerves that supply those glands. Among the nerves that are frequently affected are the ones that route to the Lumbar Vertebra L3. These nerves can cause muscles in the lower back to contract and cause pain, radiating symptoms or limit range of motion. This is where a physical therapist can help.
At SportsMed Physical Therapy we work with our patients to restore their joint mobility back to normal levels and strengthen the back muscles. We accomplish this through flexibility exercises and various techniques to help restore normal range of motion. This is all done through a combination of exercises done in the clinic and at home. Our goal is not only the immediate relief of pain, but also to educate and equip the patient with strategies and techniques to use to avoid and minimize stress.