Tag Archive for: stress

Got Chronic Pain? Don’t Stress About It

Chronic pain and stress are often intertwined. When you experience persistent discomfort, it’s natural to feel stressed about it. Unfortunately, this stress often exacerbates the pain, resulting in a frustrating cycle that can leave you feeling worse both physically and mentally. 

Fortunately, there are ways to break the stress/pain cycle. Here’s what you should know about the relationship between the two. 

How Does Stress Affect the Body?

According to the American Psychological Association, stress affects every system of the body, including the musculoskeletal, respiratory, nervous, and gastrointestinal systems. One of the most pronounced ways it can cause pain is through the tension it triggers in the body. Tensing of the muscles is the body’s natural response to stressors— a protective measure to guard against injury and pain. Under persistent stress, however, this continual muscle tension can lead to issues like tension headaches and musculoskeletal pain.

Stress also impacts the body on a chemical level. The body releases stress hormones that can have a cumulative, damaging effect over the long term. Moreover, research shows that persistent stress creates an altered chemical response that can actually intensify pain. For people with preexisting chronic pain, such as joint pain from arthritis, the cycle may feel impossible to break.

How to Cope With Stress to Control Pain?

It would be easy to fix stress-related pain if stress could simply be avoided altogether. Unfortunately, stressors are often a part of everyday life. While we may not be able to steer clear of them entirely, we can change the way we respond to them.

Finding healthy stress outlets is an important step to managing both your mental health and your chronic pain. While each person will have their own preferred stress management technique, here are a few options to try:

  •       Get some exercise. It may seem counterintuitive to exercise when you’re in pain, but even a brief walk could provide benefits. For instance, walks can help reduce joint stiffness in people with arthritis while also delivering a mood boost.
  •       Focus on sleep hygiene. If your mind is racing at night due to stress, your body isn’t getting the sleep it needs to repair itself. Promote restful sleep by avoiding electronics at least 30 minutes before bed, as the blue light from devices can disrupt your body’s circadian rhythms.
  •       Manage your responsibilities. Chronic stress can come from taking on too much. While not all stressors are avoidable, there may be ways to lighten your workload and feel less overwhelmed. Find out if you can delegate tasks at work or home, and consider turning down social activities if you don’t have the bandwidth for them.
  •       Connect with loved ones. Spending time with friends has been shown to release the feel-good hormone oxytocin, which can provide a mood boost and help you beat stress.
  •       Discover an alternate stress outlet. For some people, going for a drive while listening to music might be an effective way to decompress. For others, quiet activities like yoga, journaling, or meditation may help. Experiment with different methods to find which works for you. 

If you’re facing stress that could be causing or contributing to your pain, talk to your United Physician Group provider. Our compassionate pain management specialists are here to help find relief from all aspects of pain, including the mental toll it can take. Connect with us online or by calling (833) 523-0906. 

Does Stress Make Chronic Pain Worse?

In these uncertain times, it’s natural that many of us are feeling more stress and anxiety. Even if you and your family are healthy and safe at home, fear of the unknown and the troubles of others can weigh heavily on all our hearts and minds.

If you or someone you love experiences chronic pain, you may wonder whether all this stress can make that pain worse. Or maybe you’re already experiencing more severe pain and wondering whether stress is to blame.

The Cycle of Stress and Pain

Let’s first acknowledge the obvious. Chronic pain can be a source of stress. It may make it harder for you to work or care for your family. It may interfere with your rest and sleep. And hurting all the time is inherently stressful. Your body is always looking for a way to relieve or escape the pain.

So pain can absolutely cause stress. But can stress also make the pain worse?

While the answer is less clear, there is a growing consensus among researchers and pain management specialists that it can. This is not to suggest that the pain isn’t “real.” It’s very real. But stress may be making it worse.

According to an article published by the Institute for Chronic Pain (reporting on a manuscript in the Journal of Pain), stress can activate the immune system and cause increased inflammation. And inflammation can aggravate many causes of chronic pain.

A 2015 meta-study published in the Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences found that stress can cause both analgesia and hyperalgesia: reduced or increased sensations of pain. While the results were complex, increased pain seemed more common in cases of chronic stress than with occasional, isolated stress. Negative emotions also heightened the impact of stress on pain. (A stressful but enjoyable experience, such as competing in a sport, may be less likely to increase pain.)

And in a 2017 manuscript published by the Department of Health and Human Services, the authors suggest that chronic pain and chronic stress are two parts of the same underlying neurobiological system, interrelated in subtle and intricate ways.

Research in this area continues, and we don’t yet fully understand how pain and stress are related. However, if you’re experiencing chronic stress, it may very well be making your chronic pain worse.

What Can You Do to Ease Anxiety?

If stress is making your chronic pain worse, there’s a lot you can try to ease that stress and possibly ease your pain too. Your United Physician Group family medicine doctor or pain management specialist can help guide you to effective stress relief and pain management.

Your options may include:

Lifestyle Changes

  • Regular exercise: If your chronic pain doesn’t prevent it and your doctor approves, exercise can help you manage stress.
  • Quality sleep: Chronic pain and stress can make it harder to sleep, but, if you can develop good sleep habits, the rest may ease your stress.
  • Good nutrition: A healthy diet keeps your body in balance and better able to handle each day’s challenges. Also consider moderating or eliminating caffeine and alcohol, which can make stress worse.
  • Complementary treatment: Yoga, massage, meditation, guided breathing, and other supportive treatments may help ease your stress.

Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help you develop skills to better manage stress.

Medicine

Some prescription medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) and antidepressants, may treat chronic pain and chronic stress simultaneously.

You Don’t Have to Figure This Out Alone

If you’re hurting and under stress, the most important thing you can do is to reach out for help. You don’t have to have all the answers. Reach out to your pain management specialist, and let us know what you’re going through. We’ll help you figure it out.