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Identifying Tension Issues

During stressful periods, a lot of us hold tension in our shoulders. Beyond the obvious pain and tenderness, there are some other problems that can arise from this.

Neck Pain and Headaches

The muscles on the tops of your shoulders attach to the neck. Tension here can quickly lead to more tight muscles in the neck itself.

Some headaches are caused by problems in the neck. These are known as “cervicogenic headaches”. They vary from tension type in a few ways:

  • They radiate over the top of the head, rather than sitting at the front
  • They can last anywhere from a few hours to over a day
  • Typically, they do not come with nausea or visual disturbances (unlike migraines
  • The pain is only felt on one side at a time

As well as headaches, tight neck muscles can cause tooth clenching and jaw problems. Prolonged desk work can multiply the problem if it encourages craning the neck forward. This stretches the front of the neck, pulling the jaw open.

Muscles around the jaw reflexively clench to keep the mouth shut. They continue to do this as long as the position demands it, but may also remain tight out of habit over time. Chronic tension in these muscles can cause tenderness in the muscles themselves. Beyond that, they can pull on the disc within the jaw joint and refer pain to the head. When the disc is pulled in this way, it may become painful on some movements, or cause clicking or locking. Your osteopath will work to release the muscles in question, but also to get to the root cause. This may involve changes to your desk set-up.

Breathing Problems

The role of some of those tight shoulder muscles is to assist with breathing. This may be why stress caused them to tense up in the first place. Good, efficient breathing is led by the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a sheet of muscle that runs between the lowest ribs. Its movement creates negative pressure in the chest that draws air into the lungs. During times when the diaphragm is tight or limited, the slack needs to be picked up elsewhere: this is where the shoulder muscles come in.

These smaller muscles work hard to move the upper ribs. Their efficiency is poor in comparison to the diaphragm, so they become fatigued. If they end up being held in contraction, they might even restrict the movement of the upper ribs.

Diaphragm dysfunction can also play a role in acid reflux. The opening at the top of the stomach is supported by the diaphragm. This means that a well-functioning diaphragm acts almost like a second sphincter to prevent the leakage of stomach acid. If you’ve been under more stress than normal and noticed these symptoms, we might be able to help you get to the root cause.

Are you suffering from tension-related symptoms?

Do you have neck pain?

Our team is here to help you… to treat your symptoms and alleviate your pain. We can also offer you lifestyle advice.

This article was written by Freya Gilmore, a Registered Osteopath in our clinic team