The body expresses stress and tension through tight muscles and defensive postures. Like other muscular or postural issues, your osteopath can help.

Areas of the body affected by tension

Stressed Shoulders

The raised shoulders of someone under tension have more effects than just local discomfort. Beneath the larger tight muscles are smaller ones involved in breathing. These are less efficient at assisting with breathing than larger ones, like the diaphragm, so they are considered “accessory muscles” of respiration. This means that when they are recruited, they need to work harder to have an effect. Therefore, they become tense themselves.

Due to their placement, the over-involvement of these muscles can lead to tightness in the neck as well as the shoulders, which in turn can lead to more symptoms. One common one is headaches, so it’s well worth addressing the earlier symptoms before they cause compensation elsewhere.

Tension and the Abdomen


You may have noticed that when you’re stressed, you hold your abdomen steady. The most efficient breathing is “lower rib breathing”, where your abdomen comes out as you take air in. Tension, being self-conscious, or wearing clothes that are tight around your middle can discourage this. It makes sense that when lower rib breathing is off the cards, upper rib breathing takes over. This is the kind of breathing where the accessory muscles have to work hard.

Re-learning how to breathe properly is not a difficult task, although it typically takes a lot of practice. Your osteopath can support you through this by working to release the diaphragm during treatment sessions. You may also benefit from breathing exercises. Not only do breathing exercises help you get back to breathing efficiently, but they can be a great tool during stressful moments themselves. Deep breathing affects the part of the nervous system that dictates the stress-response. Behaving as if you are relaxed can help trick your body into winding back down.


A stress behaviour that you might not realise also serves to trick the nervous system is stress-eating. If the stressful part of the nervous system is responsible for “fight or flight”, the calm side is associated with “rest and digest”. Unfortunately, if the body is in too much of a tense state when you eat, it will not be able to cope with digestion. Blood is diverted from the digestive system when the fight or flight response is active. This is in order to provide energy to the muscles needed to get you out of danger. Modern life encourages this stress response for longer periods of time, meaning that digestion is more affected than it should be. IBS type symptoms are associated with stress, and you may find that if you have any other GI issues, they respond poorly to tension too.

Abdominal discomfort is an easy route to further bracing the abdominal muscles, and preventing proper breathing. Breaking the cycle is key.

Treating Tension

In summary, your osteopath may be able to help with:

  • retraining breathing
  • providing and supporting breathing exercises
  • relaxing tight muscles
  • improving movement throughout the body

And although we can’t help with the cause of your stress, you might still find relief in talking about it. At Alsager Wellness Rooms we put a lot of focus on mindfulness, which can be a really useful tool in minimising the fight or flight state. See our current therapies and classes in the toolbar above for more information.

If your stress manifests as pain, book in today.