To say this past year has been hard would be an understatement. We’ve been separated from our loved ones, deprived of essential human contact, faced furlough, redundancy and financial uncertainty and been confined to homes that have doubled up as offices and classrooms. The pandemic and social distancing measures have, unsurprisingly, had a huge effect on our mental health, which is the basis of an ongoing, UK-wide, long-term study by The Mental Health Foundation.
The research has been split into ‘waves’, looking at how different stages of the pandemic have had different impacts on our mental state. In the most recent, wave 9, pre-Christmas 2020, the study found that over half (54%) of the adult UK population had felt anxious or worried in the previous two weeks because of the pandemic. Women (63%), full-time students (66%), people who are unemployed (60%) and those who have a pre-existing mental health condition (69%) were population groups who appeared to be feeling more anxious or worried too. Additionally, almost a quarter of people (23%) reported feeling lonely in the previous two weeks.
If you’ve also been experiencing unexplained aches and pains alongside all of the above, renowned osteopath Dr Anisha Joshi, who has treated the likes of Professor Green and Rita Ora, believes the answer could lie in assessing your mental health. “Stress and anxiety can manifest as psychical pain because without realising it when we are stressed or anxious, we might clench our jaw, shrug our shoulders, or have a change in our breathing pattern,” Anisha tells us. “Subconsciously in our sleep, we can hyperventilate. The apex of our lungs attaches from our collar bone to our neck so a disruption in our breathing pattern can cause tightness and in turn neck pain. Also, the diaphragm attaches to the lower back and ribcage and when that gets tight it can result in low back pain. So, an altered state of breathing, not sleeping as well, insomnia or tossing and turning can actually use your body, muscles, and spine in a different way which can cause you to feel pain in places that you wouldn’t normally feel it.”
Dr Anisha Joshi with her client Rita Ora
Since the pandemic started, Anisha has seen an increase in reports of pain in common stress-related areas from her patients: “The majority are due to them having to adapt their lifestyle to working from home and working out from home. Being at home has also meant that they have a higher sense of awareness of any aches and pains as there are fewer distractions.”
If neck, hip and low back pain have been plaguing you during lockdown, Anisha says you’re not alone: “Most people are presenting with neck pain that predisposes them to headaches – I think a lot of that is down to being on Zoom calls for large periods of time and staring at their screens for longer. People underestimate how often they move during the day when they are in the office or within a meeting itself.” Living that sedentary life has also led to a rise in anterior hip pain, according to Anisha: “People are going from sitting at their desk to sitting at the dinner table to sitting and watching TV. Lack of movement and more sitting can cause some tightness from the anterior compartment of the hip, and things like lower back pain and sciatica can be aggravated because our bodies are adapting to our new working styles.”
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If you’re not a qualified osteopath, knowing whether your pain is a physical manifestation of a mental health issue can be tricky. “Osteopaths take a full medical case history and ask key questions when a patient comes in,’ says Anisha, ‘Based on the answers to those questions, it’s easier to tell whether a patient is experiencing stress and based on their symptoms whether those stresses could be elevating their level of pain. Often if a patient is anxious or stressed it is easy to pick up on from their tone of voice or their body language. I have had the experience of people coming in complaining of neck pain and then go on to tell me about a recent relationship breakup, or problems in their job. ”
While Anisha treats many of these issues with soft tissue release and kinesio taping to relieve the area and improve circulation, if time or budget doesn’t allow for an osteopath appointment, all is not lost. “It’s important to be mindful of how your body is positioned – are you shrugging your shoulders for example – and consider your level of stress,” says Anisha. “If you can’t see someone, the best thing to do is to and stretch and foam roll if you can. There are eBooks on my website with stretches and tips on how to manage and reduce pain in the most common problem areas – it doesn’t take long to do the stretches and it’s a much more affordable option. That said if you have chronic or recurring pain, its always best to see an expert if possible.”
When it comes to maintaining optimum physical and mental health during this challenging time, Anisha is a firm believer in a holistic approach: “It’s important to keep active, to keep moving regularly from your workstation. Home workouts are brilliant but just be mindful of your form when you are exercising. Drinking lots of water is essential, and I also recommend people try journaling before bed: it can help relieve stress and empty your brain ensuring a good night’s sleep, which is essential to help any kind of repair within your body.”
If lockdown 3 has sent your stress levels and body tension sky high, check out Anisha’s handy guide to the most common stress and anxiety symptoms, the side effects and recommended treatments. For more brilliant health hacks and information, follow Anisha @osteoanisha.
|Action:||Physical Effect:||Osteopathic Treatment:|
|Clenching your jaw||Jaw pain, headaches||Massaging muscles around the jaw and neck|
|Shrugging your shoulders||Neck tension, shoulder pain, mid and low back pain||Massaging the neck and shoulder muscles and mobilisation of the joints|
|Stress & Anxiety||Insomnia||Advising patients on supplementation, correct sleeping positions and relaxation tips|
|Stress & Anxiety||Irritable Bowel Syndrome||Massaging the visceral organs of the body to increase nerve function to the digestive organs|
|Altered Breathing||Rib and neck pain||Massaging the surrounding muscles, mobilising the ribs and spine to provide better functionality of movement|