Your posture, meaning how you hold yourself when either sitting, standing or lying down, is a good indication as to where you hold stress as “muscular tension in your body”. Tension has to go somewhere and we have to inquire within ourselves – “why is that tension there”?
There’s no doubting that fibromyalgia is a stressful condition to live with whether it’s diagnosed as a primary or a secondary condition to arthritic or autoimmune disease, it’s unpredictable and can cause a disruption to daily life. The fact is that no one really knows what causes fibromyalgia, but what we do know from recent and more advanced medical research that it’s a functional systems disorder affecting several systems in the body, including the nervous system and the central processing pain receptors.
The fault lies at the inability to filter irrelevant sensory information which includes both emotional stimuli and environmental factors such as chemical, temperature, noise, light etc. Typical fibromyalgia symptoms are characterised as widespread pain, fatigue, cognitive impairment, heightened sensitivities and many other symptoms which vary in each individual sufferer. As a secondary condition it makes it quite difficult to treat due to some of the symptoms crossing over.
The pain can vary in type and intensity and for those who suffer tend to have a low pain threshold which is the difficult part for others to understand that even the slightest pressure can give such unbearable pain! Hyperalgesia is a common condition that accompanies fibromyalgia that causes an increase in sensitivity and an extreme response to pain where there is damage or chemical changes to the nerve pathway in sensing pain.
Most types of fibromyalgia pain are unaccounted for, meaning there are no signs of injury, inflammation or other disease present, but that doesn’t mean that the pain isn’t real.
However, there are also many other factors that may contribute to pain, lifestyle and diet for sure and one other such factor is something that we rarely give a second thought to and that is ……. POSTURE !
Just for a moment whilst you’re reading this just do a quick scan from the top of your head and all the way down through your body – Is your spine straight or curved? Is your head jutting forward and pushing your neck? Are your shoulders relaxed? Are you sitting cross legged?
Now that you’ve shifted your focus to your body did you notice any aches or discomfort? Did you shift any part of your posture? Did you notice if you’re holding any tension in your body?
Think of it this way – These few questions that have just passed through your mind have very simply raised your “mind – body – awareness” to the sensations you feel in your body. Any sensations like discomfort, aches or pains that you’ve just noticed may have been subsequently out of your awareness. Either way, they are sensations that are being transmitted by your nervous system – which has a huge link between the mind-body-connection.
Posture is mostly habitual and out of our awareness, like our breath – they both happen involuntary. Like a remote control – they both influence our physiology but not always to give you the best health benefits that you could be getting. Posture itself is a habit formed in the subconscious mind and is directly influenced and affected by the pain and stress levels in your life. Stress places tension in the muscles, putting pressure on the ligaments and nerves in and around the spine and spinal cord and pulling muscles into an obtrusive position.
Out of a lifetime’s habit we generally like to sit or stand in a way that’s familiar to us – a way that feels right to us – yet not noticing our posture at all! Worse still is not really noticing if our posture is bad, but because it feels right to us we don’t notice that it might just be contributing to or creating additional unnecessary pain!
The posture that we adopt is affected by many things such as how we hold ourselves when there is pain or tension in the muscles, or whilst we are staring down at our devices or crashed out on the sofa watching TV, also walking with our phones in front of us or head down and last but not least when we are in pain and in a state of stress.
When we experience even the teeniest bit of stress, the arousal response (the sympathetic nervous system) kicks into action by signalling the body to prepare for danger. The fear centre in the brain signals the alarm and physical changes take place in the body. This causes the heartbeat to speed up, the breath becomes quick and shallow, cortisol and other stress hormones are released into the blood and we begin to feel the tension in the muscles and very soon we feel stiff and full of aches and pains. This has a profound affect on our muscular and skeletal composition and we adapt our posture to compensate and avoid further pain.
When this becomes chronic we begin to stress about the pain and this is like a red rag to a bull for a fibromyalgia sufferer. Chronic stress causes fatigue as well as ill health and the dreaded fibro flare up. Even the thought of a flare up and the disruption it brings is enough to cause stress leaving our body to cry out for rest and time to recover. Mostly though we have to battle through whilst still stuck in the stress loop. In the back of your mind all the worries continue and ultimately leads to even more tension and pain in the muscles and the need for more rest. Unfortunately, too much rest works against you because it causes muscle weakness, further compromising your posture and also preventing the release of stress triggered adrenalin from the muscles to counteract the cortisol raging round your blood stream.
As humans, we are wired for this, our survival mechanism switches on the alert and tense mode but it’s also meant to switch off when the danger has passed. However when the stress state becomes chronic it rarely gets a chance to switch off and our physical reaction keeps the body tense and this is partly dealt with by how we hold ourselves. Stress has the ability to worsen our perception of pain resulting in physical changes to our posture brought on by varying degrees of muscular tension and pain, resulting in the sufferer becoming less active. The effects are accumulative, leaving the brain on constant alert mode and signalling the body to stay stuck in the arousal response where no healing occurs.
How does your Posture affect you?
Stress and chronic pain have a huge impact on posture. It causes muscular tension which pulls on the ligaments, tissue and nerve fibres making everything feel tight changing the whole physicality of your posture. It’s common to carry the effects of stress as tension in your arms, abdomen and typically the back, neck and shoulders. Blood flow becomes restricted at the base of the skull and that’s when you notice that your head is throbbing, it may even trigger a migraine.
The tension starts to spread throughout your body, revealing itself as “pain” and it seems to know exactly where to settle on the most tender areas. The body naturally wants to protect itself and tends to haunch over curving the spine, really all you want to do is curl up into a ball. The way you hold yourself becomes stiff and tight and you may not even notice that your breathing is restricted – quick and shallow breaths are a signal to the brain that you are still in danger – even though you’re not!
Correction of Posture (The Alexander Technique)
“You transfer everything, whether physical, mental or spiritual, into muscular tension” F M Alexander, founder of the Alexander Technique.
Tension has to go somewhere and it generally settles itself in the muscles, compromising the organs and the systems of the body, yet we continue with our lives from day to day either totally oblivious to this or we’re aware that something’s not quite right and we notice the symptoms. We place a lot of our reasoning on the “symptoms” without getting anywhere near the cause – Tension.
Frederick Matthias Alexander, a Tasmanian born in 1869, founder of The Alexander Technique, suffered with respiratory problems in early life which became a problem for his career as an actor. He found that his breathing issues, sore throat and neck were restricting his performance and when medical intervention failed to resolve his problem, in attempts to regain his career in acting and recitals he had to solve his problem for himself and this led to the Alexander Technique.
He began to observe his stance, body positions and habits to work out what was behind his health problem. Through this he learned that whilst acting that his entire actions were based on tension which started off in his throat area causing pain when reciting his lines and this tension then linked to additional tension throughout his body. He observed that his whole body became very tense at even the thought of carrying out his recitals and this had become a subconscious habit that had led to his difficulties.
He was probably one of the earliest to realise that his health issues were, rather than a medical problem, but a physical reaction he suffered and was resulting from a mind – body connection, a health issue of the body was in fact caused by state of mind, namely tension.
Over the years he learned that his habits were at the root of his health problems, habits such as his self-talk coupled with his fearful thoughts that led to his restrictive breathing habits and hence creating a posture related problem which were all in fact preventing his recovery and damaging his health and sense of well-being. He went on to reach a full recovery and opened a school to teach other practitioners and soon the technique was being used around the globe and is still very much in demand today. The principles are very much based on addressing the individual’s health with a holistic, multi-layer approach to the mind, body and spirit and concentrates on the unlearning of habits, including posture, that are preventing healing and recovery.
To conclude, I hope this if nothing else has raised your awareness to your posture and like me, begin to catch myself when I’m slouched over my lap-top, as I am doing now – ooops!
Good luck and feel free to leave any comments.
Author Jok Saunders, Fibromyalgia Health Practitioner and founder of the Fibro Clinic South West