How Does Stress or Psychological Tension Cause Pain?
by Rick Olderman, physical therapist for over 25 years
Short answer: no-one knows for sure. But here’s my take on it. Stress causes the release of something called Transforming Growth Factor β-1 (TGF β-1). This substance travels in our bloodstream like a hormone. TGF β-1 then activates myofibroblasts.
Myofibroblasts are the unit of a special kind of fascia that has up to four times the contractile capacity of regular fascia. Myofibroblasts are found in areas of the body where there is more mechanical stress, like the thoracolumbar fascia in the low back area. Fascia is connective tissue that wraps around and connects all structures in the body: muscle-muscle, muscle-bone, blood vessels, nerves—everything.
So, the TGF β-1 courses through our system activating myofibroblasts found in areas of increased mechanical stress, which causes pain.
What I’ve found is that reducing mental stress can relax the body. But just as important, removing stresses from the body, tends to calm the mental stress as well. It’s a two-way street. So, it may be a good idea to not only see a psychological therapist to reduce/manage your mental stress but also a physical therapist to work from the other direction too, where that stress is expressed.
Unravel the physical components contributing to your stress and pain with my Fixing You Method program.
Rick Olderman is a sports and orthopedic physical therapist, personal trainer, Pilates instructor, and speaker living in Denver, CO. He has been practicing physical therapy since 1996.
If you suffer from back pain, hip pain, knee pain, foot pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, or headaches, I want to encourage you to try my at-home program.