80% of adults in the United States will experience back pain at some point in their lives. Back pain isn’t always caused by an injury; in fact, it is often instigated by psychological factors like stress.
In order to understand how the psychological can become the physical, one must first understand exactly what stress is.
Stress is the body’s instinctive response to danger. In early humans, it was a defense mechanism triggered by the presence of a potential physical threat, such as a dangerous wild animal. Upon the sight of such a threat, the body begins to release hormones like adrenaline to trigger its fight-or-flight response. Heart rate spikes, pupils dilate, and the body becomes primed to either subdue the potential threat or run far away from it.
The fight-or-flight response can also be triggered by perceived psychological threats like the fear of rejection or embarrassment. This is why the stress response is often triggered by things like public speaking, job interviews, or impending deadlines.
One important element of the stress response is the body’s strategic redistribution of blood from the surface of the body to muscles and the brain. This diverts more oxygen than usual to muscles, thus tightening and readying them to give us maximum power to fight or flee. It is this stress-related tightening that causes tension in our muscles, ultimately leading to pain and soreness.
Massage therapy can alleviate muscle tension caused by the stress response. The pressure from a massage can aid in flushing out lactic acid from the body, improving circulation and stimulating the distribution of blood, that was diverted to muscles by the stress response, back to the rest of the body.
It can also help relieve the psychological symptoms of stress. As Massage Therapy improves circulation, it also helps to stimulate the production of important mood-regulating hormones, like dopamine and serotonin.
We all lead stressful lives. If you think your stress might be causing you physical pain, ask your doctor if Massage Therapy is right for you.