What do pain and relaxation have to do with each other? At first glance, perhaps not very much, but there is more to it than that. There are two main reasons why tension can exacerbate pain:
- Your nervous system reacts differently when you are tense.
- Tension can easily lead to (too long) muscle tension.
Let's start at the first point. Our nervous system works differently when we are tense or relaxed. Simply put, the body makes it easier for dangerous stimuli (the stimuli that can cause pain) to travel to our brains when we are tense. Also, our brains are more likely to decide to cause pain when we are tense. They are more likely to shout 'DANGER' when the tension or stress is high. Relaxation thus ensures that fewer dangerous stimuli travel to the brain (they are stopped earlier in the body) and that the brain reacts less strongly to dangerous stimuli. A double win!
The second point is that tension and stress easily lead to (long) muscle tension. Almost everyone has vulnerabilities in the body, which 'play up' quickly when stressed. Affected by the shoulder blades, lower back, pelvis, or sometimes in the face or jaws. Often these are places that remain unconsciously stretched when we experience tension, where the excess of muscle tension exhausts the muscle and causes pain.
Three ways to relax
Enough reason to keep our nervous system and muscles well maintained! You could do this in the following ways:
- Start by doing regular relaxation exercises. An accessible and good exercise to deal with tension in the body can be found here.
- Consciously planning relaxed activities. A walk in between, coffee with a good friend, taking a break - even if you feel you still have to do a lot of things.
- Participate in a course or group where relaxation plays an important role. Yoga at your gym or community centre, a course in mindfulness, or working on relaxation with your physiotherapist.