Healthy Hoboken – July 2008
[Every month, Hoboken411 will be posting a column to give answers to Hobokenites’ most frequently asked health questions. The column is written by Dr. Laura Brayton of Hoboken Chiropractic + Wellness. Please send all health-related questions to DrBrayton@HobokenChiro.com.]
Healthy Hoboken – July 2008
“Dear Dr. Brayton,
I am a young professional in a high stress job working in Manhattan. I work long hours at a computer and frequently suffer from headaches and jaw tightness. I think I grind my teeth at night and take ibuprofen several times a week to combat the headache pain. I know that long term usage of ibuprofen can cause damage to my liver and kidneys. Is there another alternative to managing the symptoms from my stressful employment?”
Dear Stressed Out,
Almost all of the symptoms presenting in my office originate from emotional/mental stress either from work, family life, finances, relationships, etc. Unfortunately, chronic stress can cause serious physical damage to your health as it accumulates over time and causes “micro-traumas” to your body. These “micro-traumas” cause wear and tear to your body in the same way that a “macro-trauma” like a car accident can. However, it just takes a longer process.
Regardless, once you become symptomatic with pain or discomfort, it is your body’s way of indicating that there is an imbalance that needs to be addressed. Masking the pain with pain killers does not address the cause of the symptom and will only allow the problem to worsen. Therefore, finding the actual cause of the physical symptom (even if it originated from stress) is imperative to fixing the problem.
My patients with headaches and jaw tightness tend to not only grind their teeth at night and therefore, require a mouth guard while they sleep, but also clench their teeth during the day. Although it may be difficult to break the habit of grinding while asleep, I find lavender oil massaged into the jaw before sleep can be helpful. Also, deep, yogic breathing before bed or even journaling can help de-stress the body before sleep. Next, try to be conscious of your jaw clenching during the day, especially while you feel stressed at work. Take a moment to notice if you are clenching your jaw and then relax your jaw muscles and focus on keeping your lips together while your teeth are separated. Avoid gum and other chewy foods like bagels until your overworked jaw muscles have a chance to relax. Your headaches may very well be caused by your jaw tightness; however, it is important to get a thorough exam from your doctor to make sure that there are no other serious health problems.
Addressing any neck stiffness through massage, chiropractic, acupuncture, etc can also give a lot of relief to the tension you are storing in your body and can also serve as great stress-reducers. Finding activities or exercises that you enjoy will help combat your high stress job and also serve to help break the stress cycle. For some patients, finding new employment worked wonders in helping reduce their headaches and jaw stiffness.
Yours in health,