Stress and lower back pain go hand in hand this day and age. It is a common and almost universal physiological problem that appears to be an epidemic in modern America. While stress itself is not the cause of lower back pain, it can exacerbate an existing injury. Once a person has injured their back from lifting or another physical activity, the back pain can end up recurring over time due to outside factors. Although it is a problem that affects the nervous system, prolonged events can eventually take their toll on the musculoskeletal system as well. During stressful moments, the area in the brain known as the hypothalamus is triggered and releases hormones into the bloodstream. These hormones activate the adrenal gland, which causes it to release a hormone known as cortisol. This hormone is one of the primary factors, as it causes our brain to kick up its responses to stressors and react accordingly. This process is not necessarily caused by prolonged stressors. As an example, if someone steps on the road and a car goes speeding past and startles the pedestrian, cortisol and adrenaline are released. Cortisol has a wide range of functions in the body, such as the brain’s glucose utilization, accelerating tissue repair, heightening immune response, and reducing inflammatory responses. Cortisol also reduces the activity of both human growth and reproductive cycles, in addition to the digestive system. Stress is usually regulated by the body and is self-controlling.
However, if stressors increase or are sustained for long periods of time, a physiological problem is created. The person will constantly feel on edge as the hormone levels stay in the tension stage. The body is unable to regulate itself at this point, which means the fight or flight reaction is kept on. When the person has no control over stressors in his or her life, the brain is unsure of when to turn off the hormones and the person is more likely to remain tense. A day in the life of an average American today can be very demanding.
Most people now work overtime and take less vacations as they take on more workloads and higher work responsibilities overall. When they do take vacations, Americans often find the preparation itself stressful. At this point, it is necessary to find solutions to reduce stress levels once more. This can be done through physical and massage therapy, visiting a chiropractor or acupuncturist, and a balanced diet. Most people who go in for physical therapy are dealing with many stressors that are applied to their lives through long commutes and the physical demands of their working life. It is at this time they need to find out how to control these factors and reduce effects on the body.
The tensions of daily life in particular relate to back problems through the aforementioned response of the adrenal glands. As the brain continues to release hormones, these glands become fatigued and the nerves related to the adrenal system can be affected. The third lumbar vertebra, or L3, is most affected by this fatigue due to the peripheral nerves around the spine. Any muscles surrounding the area are affected by the nerves, which causes them to contract and creates improper balance and pain points that can be triggered by other factors. The effects on these points eventually cause a limited range of motion and radiating pain from the affected area. Going to physical therapy will assist in reducing this pain through applied techniques that help increase joint mobility and reduce tension on the lumbar area, as well as strengthening the related muscle groups. Stability exercises and other preventative measures can be applied to help increase mobility of these joints, in particular the Sacroiliac joint. These exercises help strengthen weakened ligaments as well as loosen up tight muscles, both of which are the root cause of back pain. Physical therapy helps reduce low back pain through flexibility exercises, strength training, and manual techniques that help return joints, ligaments, and muscles to their normal range of motion. These techniques are used in conjunction with the patient’s own home exercise training which focus on stability and posture to help with proper movement during daily activities and reduce overall pain from stressing factors. Through all of the above methods, plus the patient’s own personal training, physical therapy helps in relieving tension and preventing the body from further injury.