Your Brain and Pain: The Influence on How You Live and How You Feel

“No pain, no gain, right?”

That is adage that we have all grown accustomed to. Basically we have all been tutored into believing that if we want something bad enough, that it is going to hurt at times. While this may be true to a certain degree in all aspects of chasing goals, we shouldn’t HURT all the time. At some point, there should be a reward.

This is particularly true when we are talking about humans and our  precious ability to move.

We shouldn’t need to subject ourselves to agony and excruciating pain to bend over and tie our shoes. There shouldn’t be eighty percent of the population at any given moment who are suffering from low back pains. We shouldn’t be looking at 180 billion dollar bill each year just to treat those pains. I really don’t think that is that our bodies were designed for.

But we do.

Now there are all sorts of reasons why people hurt and are forced to avoid moving comfortably, but for the purposes of this article I am going to focus on Stress and its influence on our bones and muscles.

Stress

We all know the feeling of stress. The anxiety of having a boss look over our shoulder, a deadline coming up, or birthday gift that can’t be found in time are examples of moments in time where our body just isn’t as relaxed as when we are laying on a Hawaiian beach. We know that during these moments our heart rates will soar, our minds will race, and our palms will begin to sweat. These are overt examples of how your body is out of your conscious control in the hands of your brain.

As a protective feature in moments that can get to be a bit sticky our brains stop us from making decisions on how to use our body. More precisely, our limbic system sets us on “auto-pilot,” to regulate our internal activities so that we can get ourselves back to our normal balance. At the core of of all these responses to stress is the release of epinephrine. Epinephrine is also known as adrenaline. This temporary release of adrenaline is also responsible for an increase in muscle tone.

Limbic System

Inherently we all already are aware of this. An increase in muscle tone is what you experience when you are trying to brace yourself from falling or the muscular stiffness you create when are startled by a weird noise in the middle of the night. So that’s a good things. That tightness allows us to be ready to break our fall or react quickly if that weird noise is a wild cat. Most of us know this as the fight-or-flight response.

flight or fight cartoon

The problem with the fight-or-flight response is when that becomes a chronic response to all that life offers. A chronic stressful emotional response creates chronic muscle tone. This chronic muscle “stiffness” contributes to joint pain by irritating the nerve supply that runs to the muscles that move the joint. This changes how well the brain and body work together by creating a condition in which the muscles become hypersensitive. Essentially this means that they are less likely to relax and more likely to be overworked.

Think of it this way, bones and joints are not unlike overworked and underpaid employees. They get mad! Flare-ups, spasms, whatever you call it is what we feel when we ach in pain.

If we live this way then we will have certain employees that are always working and others that are always off. The end result is that our skeleton gets tugged in the wrong direction and get bones that become unaligned.

Sure, we can just pop them back place with a visit to a chiropractor, but what happens when we respond emotionally to the dishes not being done or stepping in doggie-doo. What happens we respond that way, again, and again, and again.

Muscles tug. Bones move. We are in pain, again. That is what happens.

This is the case for corrective exercise. Self-massage to relax overworked, then stretch and strengthen to reposition parts that are out of place.

Don’t just address what hurts, address why it hurts.

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