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The Curious Case of the Chronic Clencher

May 06, 2022

By: Katie Burnham, DPT

Are You a Chronic Clencher?!

Ever notice that some people have a tendency towards suffering from headaches or teeth grinding/clenching? Other people clench their booty and stand in a hip tucked posture. Our abdominals, glutes, traps, jaw and pelvic floor are a few common locations where we may hold onto tension. The way each of us process and manage stress can vary greatly. Is it possible that our bodies can store this stress in the form of tension? The answer is, yes!

Our body mechanics can contribute to the kind of “gripper” we become. Clenching or gripping, however you want to say it, is a subconscious behavior indicating that the nervous system is in survival mode. When we feel pain, fear or become anxious and stressed our bodies in turn become more tense. The sympathetic nervous system becomes activated. As a result, the hormone epinephrine is released and a cascade of event take place which impact several organs of the body. Ever notice that your heart rate will quicken and breathing becomes faster under stressful conditions? We can attribute this to the sympathetic changes taking place.

Constant activation of the stress response can have negative implications for your health. There may be several factors to consider when evaluating a person’s tendency towards having an up-regulated or heightened sympathetic nervous response. For example, hormones play a huge part. We have many hormones in the body that all have specific jobs. If one of these levels is not optimal, a cascade can happen and impact all sorts of functions. In women, hormones change throughout their cycle. Women can also expect to see fluctuations depending on the phase of life they are at and even if they are pregnant. Men have hormones too!…obviously. As men age, their level of testosterone gradually lowers. There can be an impact on mood when it is not at an optimal level. Both sexes however, can be impacted by hormonal changes associated with chronic stress exposures, even thyroid problems.

The point of all this is bringing awareness to the impact our emotions can have on our bodies. You may or may not be aware of the tension you are “carrying around” each day. Perhaps it's not something you address until it becomes a problem. Frequently I discuss this very topic with my patients. It is so important to peel away the layers to their complaints, aches and pain, etc. to identify the underlying or root cause. Yes, your posture and biomechanics are likely a factor that needs addressing when we evaluate someone with neck or back pain, even pelvic floor dysfunction…especially this! However, if you find a provider that starts to peel away those layers and tries to dig deeper into your story, you may have found someone that will be able to create a long term solution for you. Bandaids are overrated. They don't last forever.

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