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Why does anxiety and depression cause back spasms and chronic neck and shoulder pain? And can massage therapy help?


We have discussed in a previous post how the fight, flight or freeze response can cause a cycle of stress and tension, what causes it, and how relief can be found with breathing exercises.

But how does anxiety and depression fit into that pattern? Is it any different?

When we become depressed we might be lethargic, sad, anxious, worried and fearful of the future. We can find ourselves in a repeat loop – a seeming endless cycle of frustration and melancholy.

At the bottom of this pit of despair can lie basic assumptions that we are making about our past and our future. The present might seem like a painful place as we agonise about what has been, and what is to come.

Our muscular reactions are no different than in the flight, fight or freeze response – we are, in effect reacting to an internal stimulus that is telling us we have reason to be fearful. And like the sabre tooth tiger in the aforementioned post, it can hurt us – so we freeze, or panic in order to try to combat that fear.

This leads to deep muscle tension, muscle stiffness, chronic back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, frozen shoulders and back spasms.

But how can deep tissue massage help?

By using gentle breathing techniques, and giving our clients a sense of body awareness, we can help reduce anxiety and decrease tension. By focusing on the present moment we can facilitate the easing of tensions in both the mind and the body. All City Sports massage therapists can facilitate this inquiry. City Sports Massage principal therapist Jon Gee also uses counselling skills to work through what has led to the present situation of pain and dysfunction – and offers gentle guidance in how to challenge assumptions, and rise above the daily grind of incessant, negative thought patterns. The same thought patterns that keep us locked in a cycle of pain and dysfunction.

A journey of discovery should be an enriching process, and taken at a comfortable speed. But if we are brave enough to meet our pain, then awareness, breathing and bodywork can help us eradicate it.

City Sports Massage offer massage therapy in Islington, Mayfair, Holborn and London Bridge.

© Jon Gee 2011Jon Gee is the founder of City Sports Massage, a team of massage therapists in London who combine deep-tissue massage therapy with stress-reduction and body-awareness techniques.