How the Physical Body Holds Mental Tension
If you’ve ever endured a nerve-racking situation followed by a throbbing noggin, it wouldn’t seem far-fetched to connect one with the other. Nearly one in four adults reports experiencing multiple headaches every year in the United States. The World Health Organization estimates 50% of all adults have at least one headache annually. Though there are over 150 types of headaches, tension headaches are the most common and often triggered by stress. Yet while doctors might agree the two can be linked, they still don’t understand exactly how.
Brian Cole, MD, an orthopedic sports medicine surgeon at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush and a professor of orthopedics, anatomy, and cell biology at Rush University Medical Center, agrees with this sentiment. “The exact reason why stress creates headaches is still unclear. One theory is that muscle tightness in the neck and head, which can reflexively increase with stress, results in dull tension headaches.”
It’s reasonable to presume a relationship between a headache and stressful thought exists because of where the brain is located. Since thoughts tend to be associated with the mind — which is often synonymous with the brain — they all appear to reside in the same place. However, the farther down pain travels in the body — further distancing itself from the head — the murkier the relationship between thoughts and tension becomes.
Yes, We Really Are Having More Headaches Right Now — Here’s Why
People can experience stress in different ways during the pandemic. Many of those experiences can trigger headaches.
When pain is felt, it’s usually assigned to a specific body part. Localizing pain to a certain region inadvertently disconnects it from the rest of the body, thus making its origin harder to pinpoint. For instance, there is a low likelihood a medical doctor would suggest the onset of torticollis, a form of neck strain, is the result of ruminating thoughts. Linking kyphosis, or hunchback, with depression sounds even less plausible. But are connections like these really so hard to believe? Not according to Erik Peper, PhD, a professor of holistic health studies at San…