Stress, Inflammation, and Your Body…
We thought 2020 was our year of stress! Not knowing what 2021 or 2022 had in store for us. What I have come to learn from all of the varied individuals that I have had the pleasure of working with over these last few years, is that stress has not spared any of us. One of the key factors of stress for us as humans is our ability or inability to adapt to situations we have a lack of control over. These past few years have certainly left most of us with limited ability to control our situation. It has been the perfect recipe for years of stress and has resulted in a cumulative effect on all of our bodies.
What many people do not connect the dots on are how chronic stress can effect the physiology in their body, presenting in inflammation and pain. So many injuries we have treated over the past few years in our clinic, can be traced to this uptick in chronic stress.
So why does this happen?
Many of us have heard the term the “fight-or-flight” response, which essentially describes what our bodies go through when faced with a stress. Although the days of us fleeing a situation where we are literally running from a predator are generally gone, our bodies still instinctually can go into the same response that was a natural part of our adaptation for survival. This response includes the release of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol works to both suppress non-essential functions such as your immune response and digestion, and also release glucose to increase blood sugar providing increased energy to your large muscles. It simultaneously is slowing insulin production, causing a narrowing of arteries in order to force the blood to pump harder. Your body also releases adrenaline, another hormone, which works to tell your body to increase your heart rate, your respiratory rate and expand airways. Our bodies are AMAZING and all of these things occurring behind the scenes when stressed are remarkable. However, chronically being in this sets us up for an inflammatory response.
Inflammation is another remarkable response from our bodies in which are cells are primed to handle a stress such as a foreign invader (think bacteria or virus). An army of cytokines are released to help you heal. They can be triggered by illness or stress and they usually do their job and disappear. However in the presence of chronic stress they are chronically present.
Cortisol and cytokines present in our systems in an ongoing matter leading to an ongoing level of inflammation have been linked to many chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, inflammatory bowel disease to name a few. But on a more simple level even if you have mild arthritic changes at your joints related to age related changes, add a layer of persistent inflammation and you are left feeling increased pain at any and all of these joints. This can set you up for general joint pain, but also make one more susceptible to injuries of the tendons around your joints including rotator cuff tendonitis or impingement, acute back or neck strains to name a few.
What can we do about it?
A key piece of stress is lack of control over our situation. Find a few things in your routine that you can control.
_ Start an exercise routine. You will reap the benefit from the stress reducing hormones released with exercise, but you will have the added bonus of feeling a sense of control over one part of your routine/day. A physical therapy consult can be a great place to start in getting you established in a safe routine.