Stress and Shoulder Pain: Can Stress Really Cause Shoulder Pain?

stress shoulder pain

Imagine this: you’re going about your day, carrying out your usual tasks, when a nagging pain in your shoulder starts to set in. It’s not just an inconvenience—it’s a disruption that makes even simple tasks feel like a chore. This is the reality for many people who experience shoulder pain, which can have serious effects on our daily lives and overall health.

Shoulder pain not only limits our physical capabilities, but it can also have a negative impact on our mental health. Penn Medicine states that shoulder pain may be brought on by rotator cuff edema, injury, or bone abnormalities. Persistent pain can cause elevated stress, anxiety, and possibly depression if left untreated. In fact, a study published by NCBI revealed that shoulder pain is among the leading causes of disability and ranks third in conditions of chronic pain.

Now, here’s a thought: while shoulder pain can cause stress, could it be possible that stress and anxiety are actually causing your shoulder pain? 

Stress and Shoulder Pain: A Two-Way Street

It might seem surprising, but stress can indeed cause physical symptoms, including muscle tension and pain in the shoulders. Our muscles tense up when we are stressed because our bodies switch into “fight-or-flight” mode. If the stress persists, this can lead to chronic shoulder pain or a condition known as ‘frozen shoulder.’

A study published in BMC Public Health found a significant association between high levels of perceived stress and musculoskeletal pain, particularly in the shoulders. This suggests that managing stress could be a key factor in treating shoulder pain.

How to Manage and Treat Shoulder Pain Caused by Stress

So, we’ve established that stress and anxiety can lead to shoulder pain. But what can you do about it? Fortunately, there are several strategies that can help you manage and alleviate this pain.

Physical Therapy: Consulting with a physical therapist can be beneficial. They can show you exercises specifically designed to relieve shoulder pain and increase your range of motion.

Stretching Exercises: Regularly doing stretching exercises, like the “Thread the Needle” stretch, can help release tension in your shoulders.

Warm Compresses: Your shoulder can feel less painful and more relaxed if you apply a warm compress to your muscles.

Self-Massage: A gentle self-massage can also help to soothe your aching shoulders.

Posture Adjustment: Pay attention to your posture. Sitting or standing in a hunched position can put unnecessary strain on your neck and shoulders.

Regular Movement: Make sure you’re moving regularly throughout the day. This can lessen the likelihood of your muscles getting tense and stiff.

Addressing the Root Cause: How to Treat Stress and Anxiety

Now that we’ve explored the link between shoulder pain and stress, let’s talk about tackling the root cause. After all, treating the symptoms is only part of the solution; we also need to address the underlying issue, in this case, stress and anxiety.

Regular Exercise: You’ve probably heard it before, but regular exercise really is a great stress reliever. It promotes the release of endorphins, which are your body’s natural mood enhancers. Plus, it can help distract you from your daily worries.

Healthy Diet: Eating a balanced diet can help you feel better physically, which can, in turn, improve your mental wellbeing. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon or tuna, can reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Adequate Sleep: A lack of rest can worsen anxiety and stress. Try to stick to a regular sleep schedule and create a relaxing bedtime routine to help improve your sleep quality.

Work-Life Balance: If work stress is causing your anxiety, consider strategies to improve your work-life balance. This might involve setting boundaries, such as not checking emails outside of work hours, or making time for hobbies and relaxation.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): For some, professional help may be necessary. One kind of talk therapy that works well for treating stress and anxiety is cognitive-behavioral therapy. It assists you in recognizing and altering thought patterns that result in negative behaviors or anxious feelings.

Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Yoga, meditation, and deep breathing are all effective ways to relax and manage stress levels.

Never forget that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to stress and anxiety management. What suits one individual may not suit another. Trying out various methods is important to determine what suits you the best. And if your shoulder pain persists, don’t hesitate to seek medical advice.

Who to Consult for Shoulder Pain Caused by Stress

We have gone over how to deal with shoulder pain caused by stress and anxiety in detail. But remember, you are not alone on this journey. There are experts who can offer the required direction and assistance.

Primary Care Physician: It is best to speak with your primary care physician first. They can help identify the cause of your condition, offer initial treatment advice, and, if necessary, refer you to specialists.

Physical Therapist: Physical therapists specialize in relieving pain and improving mobility. They can help relieve shoulder pain by guiding you through exercises customized to your needs.

Psychologist or Psychiatrist: If stress and anxiety are getting the better of you, consider seeking help from a psychologist or psychiatrist. These mental health professionals can equip you with effective strategies and treatments, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

Nutritionist or Dietitian: If you’re keen on exploring dietary changes to help manage stress levels, consulting a nutritionist or dietitian could be beneficial. They can guide you towards healthy food choices that might help reduce stress.

Yoga Instructor or Fitness Trainer: Regular exercise and relaxation techniques like yoga can play a significant role in managing stress. Based on your condition, a licensed yoga instructor or fitness trainer can offer tailored advice.

It’s important to remember that dealing with shoulder pain caused by stress isn’t a solo journey. There are professionals ready to extend their support and guide you towards a healthier, pain-free lifestyle. Remember that asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it is a step toward recovery and wellness.

Scroll to Top