The Relationship between Stress and Chronic Pain

woman holding head

Stress is considered a normal part of life. It’s your body’s response to difficult situations in life where you have too much on your plate. Like pain, stress is also a warning system that tells your body to take action.

Pain is closely linked to stress and both are correlated. Pain increases stress and stress increases pain—it’s a vicious cycle and one that’s difficult to get out of. Both pain and stress are meant to be short-term but when they get prolonged, they can become chronic in nature. Here’s the link between stress and pain.

How Does Stress Affect the Body?

When you’re stressed, your body goes into high alert. This is when the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis of your brain registers the environment around you and signals your body to be stressed. As a result, the stress hormone (cortisol) prepares the body for action. It also activates the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for controlling blood flow, blood pressure, etc.

As a result, your immune system slows down as the blood flows to parts of body that are needed for the fight or flight response. Your muscles start tightening up and adrenalin, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels also rise.

Cortisol is released in the body at steady amounts to manage blood flow to vital organs. When the body is stressed, it releases large amounts of cholesterol that can mess the normal function of these organs. If these levels persist for a prolonged time, it can cause inflammation in different parts of the body.

Stress and Chronic Pain

When your body is in a stressed state, it can feel agonizing pain. This is because your tightened muscles and the high levels of cortisol take a toll on your body, causing feeling pain and fatigue.

When you start experiencing pain, you start worrying about it as well. This sends you off in a vicious cycle where your body becomes even more stressed. Even small stressors can end up flaring your symptoms. Then, the anticipation, avoidance, and acceptance of pain become stressors as well.

This is called catastrophizing pain where the perceived pain is far more than the actual pain because you can’t stop thinking and worrying about it. In the end, chronic stress and chronic pain can change your normal nervous system functions. This phenomenon is called central sensitization where your nervous system is in constant overdrive. When you’re in this state, you end up in a vicious pain-stress cycle.

Stressed man holding his head.

How to Break This Cycle

It might be difficult to get out of this state but it’s not impossible. Here are some ways you can effectively break this cycle:

  • Learn more about the cycle.
  • Remove stressors instead of avoiding them.
  • Practice mindfulness.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Seek professional help.

Consult the physiotherapists at 5 STAR CLINIC LTD

Are you experiencing stress triggered pain? Our experts at 5 STAR CLINIC LTD offer physiotherapy sessions that can help you deal with this pain while letting your body relax. We also offer alternative pain relief treatments such as massage therapy, acupuncture, hypnotherapy, and more.

Contact us today to learn how we can help you.

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