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Tame Stress to Reduce Neck and Back Pain

Life's demands create stress, and although some stress may be good, too much can cause health problems. Most people equate stress with high blood pressure, heart attacks, or stroke.  But did you know neck pain and back pain, insomnia, and weight gain can be stress-related, too?  Also, stress can make already-existing back pain feel worse. 

In short:  it's a good idea to keep stress under control if you want to prevent (or deal with) back pain!

Stress and Back Pain
Financial pressures, long work weeks, and medical problems typify common anxieties and everyday stress. Prolonged stress can become chronic, resulting in muscle tension sometimes felt as a stiff, achy neck or back. And sometimes stress can lead to neck pain or back pain.

 

man with low back pain

 

5 Stress Management Tips
These tips can help you get a grip on managing stress to relieve neck pain or back pain.

1. Check Those Vital Signs

  • Get a medical checkup.
  • Talk to your doctor about stress. Sometimes, side effects from medications (prescription or over-the-counter), herbal products, or other supplements can cause restlessness, insomnia, anxiety, and stressful feelings. 
  • If neck pain or back pain is severe, your doctor may suggest physical therapy. Physical therapy combines pain-relieving non-invasive treatments with therapeutic exercise, posture correction, and preventive body mechanics. 
  • Consider talk therapy with a stress counselor, psychologist, or support group. 

2. Get Moving!

  • Some yoga positions and relaxation movements help reduce stress and stretch muscles. Viniyoga blends breathing and movement together to quiet body and mind. Unlike other forms of yoga, viniyoga movements are less precise and adapted to the person's unique physical condition. Talk to your doctor about trying yoga or other stretches to ease stress and back pain. 
  • Swimming combined with a sauna or steam bathing can help relieve stress-induced pain. 
  • Take frequent stretch breaks to loosen up tight neck or back muscles. 
  • Go for a short walk at break or lunch time to rev up your circulation to reduce stress.

3. Learn to Relax

  • Kick back for 5 minutes and put your feet up. 
  • Cold and hot compresses can help ease stress-related neck pain and back pain. Wrap an ice pack and hot pack (or hot water bottle) individually in towels. Apply the ice pack for 10 minutes and then the hot pack for 5 minutes. Alternate several times. 
  • Massage and aromatherapy are stress-relieving spa treatments you can do at home. Ask a friend or partner to massage sore neck and back muscles gently. Aromatic massage oils containing eucalyptus may help ease muscle pain. 
  • Try meditation or visualization to ease stress. Some meditation practices focus on breathing and calm a busy mind. Visualization techniques to reduce stress sometimes combine imagery with breathing exercises. 

4. Control the Little Things in Life

  • Break up problems into smaller manageable units and work on resolving the easier aspects first. 
  • Learn your limits and say "no" to burdensome commitments. 

5. Eat and Drink for Life

  • Make meal times less stressful. Choose nourishing foods, eat slowly, and savor each bite. Be aware of how much you eat and drink.
  • Caffeinated coffee, cola, and other drinks do little to reduce stress or promote restful sleep. Avoid red wine at night because it can make falling and staying asleep difficult. A good night's sleep or afternoon nap can help relieve stress. 

Remember: Dealing with Your Stress Is Good for Your Back
You may not be able to control life's stressors, but don't let everyday demands interfere with your health. Incorporate exercise, relaxation techniques, and healthy foods to tame stress and help prevent neck pain or back pain.

Updated on: 09/07/12
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