How We Carry Stress

By Massage Therapist Aurora Hemann, ATC, LAT, LMT

 “That’s where I carry all of my stress.” As a massage therapist this is something I hear on a daily basis. The majority of the time my patients are referring to their upper back, neck, and shoulders. As the patient, you feel pain and tightness in these areas. What does it mean to “carry your stress” and how do you let it go?

When a body (or mind) is under stress, most people subconsciously contract or tense their muscles. As a muscle tightens, it forces the blood away from the area, resulting in a lack of oxygen and nutrients to the muscle. That muscle will then start to run low on energy, or ATP (adenosine triphosphate) which exhausts the muscle and causes the pain that you feel.

Another common problem I see when stress starts to take over is slouching or losing proper body posture. Along with slouching, stress can lead to a sedentary (less active) lifestyle, from sitting for longer periods of time to giving up exercise all together. You may then find that you are drinking less water as you are sitting more and exercising less. The combination of an inactive lifestyle and lack of water prevents the proper blood flow that the body needs to bring oxygen to the already nutrient depleted areas. Long term nutrient depletion leads to pain and tightness in the muscles.

Whether it is everyday stress, or added stress from a big event in your life, we could all use a little help to unwind and find a way to release this stress. As a massage therapist, I work with the muscles themselves. I apply compression to the affected area and the surrounding tissue. I also incorporate stretching techniques to help the muscle relax. After a massage, using my athletic training background, I often give patients home exercises and stretches to do between treatments to continue to relieve the pain and tightness.

While it is impossible to remove all of the stress from your life, I can do my part to help educate you on signs and symptoms to watch out for. From proper hydration, to postural changes, stretching and strengthening exercises, and monthly maintenance massages, my goal is to help you become pain free and stay that way.

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