Pains and Aches because of Stress?


The most common complaint of patients when they attend physiotherapy is pain and because it’s such a broad subject, we have been covering a series of topics throughout May with regards to pain management. Today we are wrapping up our series by looking at how physiotherapy can help manage stress related pain. We all experience stress at some point in time, some more than others. Stress is a reality in our everyday lives that can have a positive or negative effect on our health.

Stress is our body’s physical, mental, or emotional response to events that causes bodily or mental tension. Stress can be caused by both good and bad experiences as it is any outside force or event that has an effect on our body or mind. When we feel stressed by something going on around them, our bodies react by releasing chemicals into the blood. These chemicals give us more energy and strength, which can be a good thing if our stress is caused by physical danger. It can however also be a bad thing if our stress is in response to something emotional and there is no outlet for this extra energy and strength.  It is one of the top health hazards we face today. To ensure a healthy balance in life, we need to know what stress is so that we can manage it properly and understand what the root causes are before it starts to control us.

Many different things can cause stress — from physical (such as fear of something dangerous) to emotional (such as worry over your family or job.)

Have you ever caught yourself worrying about things you can do nothing about or worrying for no reason at all? This is called internal stress and it is one of the most important kinds of stress to understand and manage. Internal stress is when we make ourselves stress, this often happens when we worry about things we can’t control or put ourselves in situations we know will cause us stress. Some people become addicted to the kind of hurried, tense, lifestyle that results from being under stress, we even look for stressful situations and feel stress about things that aren’t stressful. It is important to remember that our environment can also cause us stress (such as crowding, pressure from work or family.)

One can build up stress over a long period of time and that can take a hard toll on our bodies, it can be caused by working too much or too hard at your job, school, or home. Stress can also be caused by not knowing how to manage our time well or how to take time out for rest and relaxation, this can be one of the hardest kinds of stress to avoid because we often feel this is out of our control.

Emotional Stress Signs:

  • Fatigue and Lack of concentration
  • Memory problems like forgetfulness
  • Persistent irritability
  • Constant frustration and restlessness
  • Increased aggression
  • Social withdrawal, ect

Physical Stress Signs:

  • Muscle tension or spasms which could cause lower back pain
  • Shoulder and neck pain
  • Headaches
  • Hair loss
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Aggravation of conditions such as asthma
  • Stomach/abdominal pain
  • Indigestion
  • Diarrhea, irritable bowel
  • Unexplained rashes or skin irritations
  • Sweaty palms
  • Sweating when not physically active
  • Unable to sleep or excessive sleep
  • Shortness of breath
  • Holding your breath

Stress can contribute to other health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, and strokes, and make us more likely to catch less serious illnesses like colds. It can also contribute to alcoholism, obesity, drug addiction, cigarette use, depression, and other harmful behaviours.

Now that we have all the hard facts it is time to have a look at how physiotherapy can help us to manage stress and stress related pain. We might think that physiotherapy won’t help because stress isn’t a physical thing, but our physical bodies are definitely linked to our emotions. If your think that our bodies respond physically to emotional feelings like laughter when we find something to be funny or tears when we are sad or we blush when we are embarrassed, this is something we cannot ignore.

Physiotherapists offer a number of stress management techniques and treatments which can help to improve a patient’s health and well-being. It can be specially designed stress management programs which could include individualized exercise programs to suit your lifestyle and needs, exercise classes like Pilates or hydrotherapy, massage, joint mobilization, lymph draining, muscle relaxation or general fitness advice.

The benefits of the above mentioned things are:

  • Reduce pain states such as headaches, back and neck pain
  • Reducing muscle tension and muscle spasms
  • Maintain joint and muscle flexibility
  • Improve circulation
  • Improve concentration span and memory
  • Teach stress management techniques
  • Stimulate the lymphatic system that helps get rid of toxins
  • Improve a feeling of general well-being
  • Decrease blood pressure
  • Reduce the risk of heart disease

You might  experience stress levels that are so high that they interfere with your ability to function on a normal level during the day.  Doctors may prescribe medication in these instances for a few months.  Long term use of these types of medication is not advisable as medications may have the potential to cause side effects such as sleepiness and some nausea.

Stress affects us all,  if we can spot the symptoms we can you can manage them as well, but is also important to note that some of the symptoms mentioned may also be indicators of other illnesses, so if in doubt, consult your doctor as soon as possible.

Diaan Jooste is a registered physiotherapist in Nelson Mandela Bay. Her practice is in 339 Cape road, on the corner of fifth ave and cape road in Newton park. If you have any questions or would like to make her appointment, you can contact her at

Tune into Kingfisher FM every Friday throughout the month of May between 11:00 and 11:30 to find out more about managing your health.