The Link Between Stress and Chronic Pain

If you’re living with chronic pain, it’s likely you feel constant stress. Depending on the degree and source of your pain, routine tasks can feel unmanageable, sleep can be uncomfortable, and everyday life can feel overwhelming.

On the flip side, there’s well-established evidence of physical reactions to stress and other emotional conditions. Negative feelings can increase your body’s sensitivity to pain. Even if stress doesn’t cause your pain, it can intensify symptoms and interfere with pain improvement. As a result, stress and chronic pain can exist in a cycle so that increasing stress intensifies chronic pain and vice versa.

Finding relief or reduction of your chronic pain symptoms can have a significant impact on the amount of stress you experience.

Here at the Failed Back Institute in Weatherford, Texas, Dr. Scott Smith has extensive experience in identifying and treating chronic pain in the back and neck. He understands the frustration and stress that can result from living with nonstop debilitating pain and works to find a resolution to your condition.

Chronic pain defined

Chronic pain describes pain that lasts for 3-6 months or more. When related to an injury, it’s pain that continues for weeks, months, or years after the expected healing and recovery time. Chronic pain may continue even after healing when there’s no obvious trigger.

Back pain that originates from muscle strains, nerve compression, or arthritis of the spine rank as some of the most common types of chronic pain. Other common conditions associated with chronic pain include:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Surgical trauma
  • Cancer
  • Inflammatory bowel disease

In some cases, you may experience chronic pain even when these conditions improve. Years of chronic pain can make neurons in the brain more sensitive to pain messages, making them overreact to the slightest disruption.

What stress really is

Stress is a situation that triggers your fight-or-flight response for survival. When you’re faced with a threat or significant challenge, your body releases chemicals and hormones to help fight off the stressor. Your breathing and heart rate accelerate and your muscles become tense. When stress continues constantly, this heightened state can eventually produce a negative effect on your natural mechanisms because it forces them to stop working normally.

Stress can affect you from several different sources:

  • Routine stress relates to pressures related to daily responsibilities such as work, school, and family
  • Stress from negative change occurs when you get divorced, lose a job, or experience illness
  • Traumatic stress occurs as the result of a major accident, assault, war, or natural disaster and may be accompanied by temporary signs of mental illness

How chronic pain is treated

Identifying the source of your chronic pain can lead to finding the right remedy. Effective treatments include:

  • Medications, including anti-inflammatories, steroids, and muscle relaxers
  • Physical therapy
  • Nerve blocks that interrupt pain signals
  • Surgery to repair back disorders

Relief or reduction of chronic pain can make a significant impact on your stress levels. No matter what type of stress you’re experiencing, relieving pain allows your brain to concentrate on dealing with the emotional factors causing your stress.

Why stress relief is important for pain relief

Stress management can help you control the damaging effects of long-term pain. Your nervous system regulates pain, and the brain works constantly to inhibit pain signals. Stress affects the brain’s ability to filter these pain signals and can make existing pain more intense.

Being in a sound psychological state can help you benefit from therapies intended to treat chronic pain because it allows your brain to interpret pain signals without interference. Some ways to gain control over your stress include:

  • Identify the source of your stress and work to change the conditions
  • Establish a routine for daily exercise
  • Get more restful sleep
  • Explore stress-relieving activities such as meditation, yoga, or tai chi
  • Establish goals and priorities to prevent feeling overwhelmed by obligations
  • Maintain relationships with friends, family, and others who can offer emotional support
  • Seek help in managing stress from a health professional

Don’t suffer from the daily stress of chronic pain. Find out your options for treatment and relief. Request an appointment or call our office for a personal consultation.

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