In related literature, you will find much reference to the “modern-day” in discussion of causes or factors influencing musculoskeletal pain and tightness. Sitting, travelling and stress are regularly regarded as causatives of pain and discomfort. Although this information indicates possible explanations for why we might experience pain from work and daily life, it may not really provide all that much assistance in terms of a functional solution. It may even create more stress.
Instead, it can be useful to better understand the basic physiology behind your pain and discomfort ensuring small steps are taken towards counteracting the problem. This will ensure you are not becoming overly concerned with the rhetoric of “sitting is the new smoking” whilst continuously feeling like you are doing wrong. Worrying too much about sitting being the cause may even worsen the problem, especially if you are predisposed to stress and/ or pain. This is because you would then be further stressed, further increasing SNS activation, and ultimately tightening your muscles or increasing pain.
An alternative way of thinking is especially important if you cannot modify your workload or work life easily yet still wish to have less discomfort. Even just acknowledging that the nervous system governs and controls your tightness and pain experience can be extremely useful. It can help you realise that there is a more powerful system behind why we feel pain or become tight and that it is much less inanimate than the common thought that muscles simply become tight on an individual basis.
Humans are really the only mammal on the planet who do not differentiate, physiologically, between a life or death scenario and a less severe stressful situation. Although the volume of hormones released may be less in comparison with that released during a life or death state, you will still have a very similar, albeit smaller, concoction of hormones released whilst dealing with much less severe challenges such as office politics, heavy workload or tough home life. These hormones activate the sympathetic nervous system which produces muscle tightness as well as creating conditions that enable pain, discomfort and dysfunction to occur. Over a sustained period, your body learns to adapt and your nervous system prioritises overused muscles creating chronic tension and stress. The body becomes more sufficient at becoming tight and if you are experiencing pain, the physiological components, such as the neurons that fire messages to your brain creating pain, also become more efficient. For many people, however, this is not irremediable. Typically, trying to improve chronic pain or tension can feel like a major challenge with no easy indication that things are actually working. This can lead to demotivation and even low mood or depression.
By listening to your body and understanding your nervous system, you can move more often and with more variation whilst enjoying true rest and recovery. This will help regulate balance within your nervous system and break any monotony of the muscular system’s functional movement routine. You should always try to improve mental health and anxiety and treat this as a priority. In moderate, extreme and even initially some mild cases, intervention in the way of medication, professional counselling or general advice can be crucial in improving symptoms or preventing escalation. Exercise should be promoted, however, if you are struggling to the point where exercise does not seem viable, you should focus on addressing anxieties and stress initially and never feel inferior or guilty for not exercising, just aspire and envisage eventually being able to. If it is purely conventional pain that is stopping you from moving more, consult a doctor, sports therapist or physio.