A new and serious side-effect from stress caused by the pandemic has been detected by Nebraska chiropractor Dr. Scott Donkin. Neck, back and jaw pain, headaches, and insomnia have worsened significantly, and they are the direct result of excessive “clenching.”

Dr. Donkin said, “Patients are acknowledging that they find themselves intensely clenching multiple times an hour. I suspected that COVID-19 was causing patients to feel extra stress and pain issues. After considerable study these last few months, I attribute the clenching and resulting pain to concern about the virus.”

“My patients express uncertainty about the state of the world, the state of our communities, the economy, and even our families’ futures,” Donkin said. “We all have a lot to be concerned about, and patients are revealing their fears with new or worsening symptoms that are stress-related.

On examination, Dr. Donkin finds patients with temple muscles and the muscles between the cheek and lower jawbone extremely tight, and neck, shoulder, and arm muscles as hard as concrete.

“I have found this ‘COVID Clenching’ to be rather common with my patients,” Dr. Donkin says. He explains that we have all had stressful situations that cause tension. Now we are experiencing the sustained grip that the COVID unknowns have on a person. In reality, the tensing effects of a conversation, reading an article, or viewing a program create an ongoing environment for stress and its manifestations, such as jaw clenching and pain.

“Awareness is key to unclenching this monster,” Donkin says. “Many people are totally unaware that they are locked up through clenching in so many ways by the sustained COVID-19 worries, and they are harming themselves. Once they become aware, they can relax, realizing that they are not alone.”

Dr. Donkin’s patients demonstrate that clenching is apparent in several forms. The most obvious is the clenching of the teeth, which makes the temple and jaw muscles contract deeply, and can lead to increased tension in the neck and back. Second is clenching the fists, which is not limited to the hands. This clenching can quickly spread to the elbows and then to the shoulders.

Finally, whole-body clenching is similar to the reaction of sudden cold. The whole body—shoulders and knees included—curls inward as the body reacts. Whole-body clenching can exacerbate muscle and joint pain.

Dr. Donkin recommends to his patients that they become aware of their particular clenching response, so they can separate the cause (COVID-19 talk) from the effect (clenching in the jaw, head, neck, arms, and body) and begin to work on what they can control, which is their body’s tensing response to stress.

Steps to combat clenching:

  • Use the pads of middle fingers to gently rub temples and jaw muscles to relax them.
  • Try a heating pad or warm shower to relax the neck, shoulders, arms, and back muscles.
  • Gently rotate, not shake, hands and elbows to relax muscles and move joints.
  • Learn deep breathing techniques to relieve tension.
  • Listen to relaxing music.
  • Gently stretch shoulders, neck, and back to encourage movement where stiffness usually occurs.
  • Exercise to release the tensing effects of stress.
  • Eat healthier foods to help ward off the negative physical effects of stress.
  • Before falling asleep and when waking occurs during the night, unclench the fists while relaxing arms, shoulders, neck, back, hips, and legs and take deep breaths in and out.

Dr. Donkin explains, “We may not be able to control the course of the virus, but we can influence the impact it has on us.”

This general information is not intended to replace appropriate treatment for any condition. People should consult with their healthcare professional for help with unique circumstances.

About: Scott Donkin, DC, DACBOH, has been in chiropractic practice for 38 years in Lincoln, Nebraska. He is the author of the books SittingSmarts and Sitting on the Job, and multiple articles on health and related subjects. He is an ergonomic consultant to the office furniture industry and a recognized expert for local and national media.

Related Link: https://www.dcpsych.org

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