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Your Muscle and Joint Pain Might Be Caused By Stress

This National Chiropractic Health Month, American Chiropractic Association (ACA) members and chiropractors nationwide are encouraging people to “Keep Moving!” by striving to add more movement to their daily lives. Robert Hayden, DC, PhD, shares tips on how you can #KeepMoving to reduce stress-related pain.

The disruptive events of the past year have taken a toll on the mental health of many Americans. Studies confirm that people are experiencing more stress and anxiety since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. What may not be as apparent to some is how that stress is affecting their muscles and joints.

A poll by the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) revealed that doctors of chiropractic attributed an increase in musculoskeletal conditions since March 2020 in part to increased stress.

“People have been taken away from their normal routines, the news is hard to watch…the pain they are experiencing in some cases is secondary to their worries,” notes Dr. Robert Hayden, DC, PhD, an ACA member who practices in Griffin, Ga.

Dr. Hayden explains that during stressful times the body secretes cortisol, epinephrine and other brain chemicals that can cause our muscles to tighten, which can inhibit range of motion and lead to pain.

Keep Moving

The good news is that there is a natural remedy to help alleviate that stress: physical activity.

“Even 20 minutes of walking is a benefit,” notes Dr. Hayden. “If the gym is not your thing, go around the block, go to a walking track or just walk through a building and make laps.”

Taking into account the mind-body-spirit connection, he suggests people also find a time of the day they enjoy and take in the sights as they walk—the nature, animals, the stars at night. These things remind us that “there are bigger things than us,” he says.

Also consider wearing a pedometer or downloading an app to keep track of your steps. This way you can track your activity from day to day and recognize when you may not be getting your usual amount of physical activity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults get 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week, which can be broken down to 30 minutes five days a week.

Stretch Out the Stress

Prolonged movement benefits not only our muscles and joints, but also contributes to the health of our cardiovascular system by helping to keep blood pressure down and our heart rate up, notes Dr. Hayden, who practiced as a cardiac nurse before becoming a doctor of chiropractic. Smaller movements may not affect our cardiovascular system as significantly, but they do help in other ways. Dr. Hayden says simply stretching can release stress from our muscles and joints.

To get a good stretch, you need only to stand facing your kitchen counter, with your hands on the counter, and then squat down slowly and lean forward. “Use the hips as leverage to open muscles in the lower back,” Dr. Hayden explains. With your hands still positioned on the counter, you also get a nice stretch in the shoulders during the squat.

Yoga is a great option for stretching, too. Dr. Hayden recommends chair yoga for those who may not be able to do yoga standing or on a mat.

Using rubber therapy bands for stretching is another good option. Some can be anchored, so you can pull or push and do resistance training with them as well.

Nutritional Considerations

Dr. Hayden advises patients who experience stress and muscle pain to stay well hydrated (water is best), make sure they are getting adequate amounts of vitamin D3, and avoid eating too many processed carbohydrates.

Vitamin D3 acts as a hormone in the body and is important for the health of bones, the immune system, and even prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, explains Dr. Hayden. “I typically recommend to patients 5,000 international units of vitamin D3 daily. Along with this vitamin, it is important to get enough rest. The action of vitamin D3 can be inhibited if your cortisol levels are high. Cortisol levels increase with irregular sleep patterns and may inhibit the action of this important vitamin.”

Consumption of too many processed carbohydrates (e.g., added sugars and white flour products) will lead to high triglycerides and elevated cholesterol. “These are risk factors in cardiovascular disease. Additionally, consumption of more [processed] carbohydrates than you can use is like a car that has too much fuel and stores it. Eventually, the car gets really heavy and may overload the engine. Increased body weight causes muscles to have to work harder, including the heart.”

So, watch the processed carbs and keep moving and stretching to keep muscle stress in check. Every time you use a muscle, it maintains its strength, facilitates circulation, and expels metabolic waste products.

Reviewed by the ACA Editorial Advisory Board. Credits: