Novus Health column: How stress can take its toll on our physical and mental well-being

We all experience stress at some point in our lives. Whether it’s pressure from work, personal relationships or financial worries, stress can take a toll on both our mental and physical well-being.
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In the run-up to Stress Awareness Month in April, we take a look at one common physical manifestation of stress: musculoskeletal (MSK) pain.

MSK pain – discomfort or pain affecting the muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons and nerves – can affect our day-to-day ability to function, so understanding the complex relationship between stress and pain is key to effectively managing the condition.

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When we experience stress, our bodies respond by releasing hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which trigger the “fight or flight” response.

Chronic stress can lead to a constant state of tension in our musclesChronic stress can lead to a constant state of tension in our muscles
Chronic stress can lead to a constant state of tension in our muscles

Whilst this response is essential for survival, prolonged or chronic stress can lead to a constant state of tension in our muscles. This tension causes tightness, stiffness and pain in the body, particularly in areas like the neck, shoulders and lower back.

Stress can also make some conditions worse, such as tension headaches, temporomandibular joint (jaw) pain and fibromyalgia.

In addition, stress plays havoc with our sleep quality, dietary habits and ability to engage in regular exercise – all of which play a crucial role in maintaining good health.

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Poor sleep can exacerbate pain sensitivity and decrease our pain tolerance.

Fatigue through poor sleep can reduce our motivation, making it more difficult for us to take part in physical activity, which is essential for both physical and mental health. It’s a vicious circle that’s hard to break.

To effectively address MSK pain that is associated with or worsened by stress, it’s essential to adopt a holistic approach that addresses both the physical and psychological aspects of the problem.

As health professionals, we recommend the following:

Stress management techniques: include stress reducing practices as part of your daily routine, such as mindfulness, breathing exercises and yoga.

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Regular exercise: engage in regular exercises to improve your overall well-being. Choose activities that are accessible for you and that you enjoy, whether it’s walking, swimming, cycling, dancing or the gym. Exercise releases endorphins, the body’s natural pain relief and mood booster.

Healthy lifestyle habits: prioritise healthy habits such as maintaining a balanced diet, adequate sleep and hydration. These factors play a significant role in supporting your overall health.

Remember to listen to your body, prioritise self-care and a healthy lifestyle and seek support when needed.

With the right approach, you can minimise the impact of stress on your physical health and enjoy greater well-being.

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If, however, you continue to experience persistent pain and discomfort, it’s worth seeking help from a healthcare professional such as the experienced physiotherapists at Novus Health.

NHS patients in Wakefield can ask their GP to refer them to Novus Health MSK physiotherapy, or refer yourself for a free physiotherapy assessment by calling 01924 224497 or visit

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