How does our site make you feel?
Great   Indifferent
Skip to main content

The Connection Between Stress and Chronic Pain

Chronic pain takes a relentless toll on both the body and mind of the sufferer. With no reprieve from pain and discomfort, stress becomes an ever-increasing burden. However, there’s a reverse relationship between stress and chronic pain as well, where physical malady follows the presence of chronic stress, rather than preceding it.

Stress, anxiety, and depression each play a role in creating chronic pain that’s perhaps not fully understood or appreciated, but it’s a relationship that is, in my experience, very real, and just as costly on the mind and spirit of the patient.

Origins of Chronic Pain

There’s an intuitive progression to the idea of pain that most people understand. Injury, inflammation, or neuropathies occur and, in the absence of complete healing, create ongoing discomfort or pain. That is, a chronic condition that starts to take a psychological and emotional toll on you, since it interferes with states of rest and relaxation necessary for your body to efficiently heal.

In turn, this stress then provides a negative feedback loop that may interfere with the improvement of your condition. That is, the stress becomes a contributor to the chronic pain itself. This raises an important question: Can stress, on its own, create chronic pain in the absence of any physical reason for the pain?

Stress as the Injury

The effects of stress on the body are well-studied, and it’s accepted that stress can have a profound impact on your physiology. Less clear, though, has always been how individuals respond to stressful situations. What’s a crisis for one person may just be an inconvenience to another.

A common physical reaction to stress is muscle tension, a reflexive guard against pain and injury. When a stressful situation suddenly appears, muscles tense and then release when the situation passes. When this release doesn’t happen, even when the threat passes, stress itself becomes the problem.

Treating the Source of Pain

As a pain management specialist, the source of chronic pain is essential to me for effective treatment. It’s simple and logical. Relieving the physical source of chronic pain addresses the stress associated with the chronic pain.

However, when stress creates chronic pain in the absence of a physical cause, treatment may be more difficult. Masking chronic pain caused by physical conditions may reduce the amount of stress you experience, aiding the healing process. In the case of arthritis or some other degenerative condition, the pain relief may also relieve the stress, even when the condition continues.

The challenge in the treatment of pain caused by stress is that relieving the pain may have no effect at all on the underlying condition. That’s why I often take a holistic approach toward this type of chronic pain. The stress you experience won’t be relieved with the pain. In fact, it’s possible that medications won’t be effective against stress-based chronic pain.

Alternative therapies are not only quite varied, the effectiveness of any one solution is also varied. For example, one patient may respond well to massage and physiotherapy, while another may see results from transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS therapy), and a third patient may respond to acupuncture and meditation.

Just as the response to stress is highly individual, often relief from its effects are highly individual as well.

You Might Also Enjoy...

How Chronic Pain Can Affect Your Mental Health

It’s natural to think of physical and mental health as separate components of your overall well-being. Yet, it’s not that simple to separate components of wellness. Your physical state profoundly affects your mental condition, and vice versa.
Why Are PRP Injections Becoming Such a Popular Treatment?

Why Are PRP Injections Becoming Such a Popular Treatment?

Harvesting platelets to create a serum called platelet-rich plasma (PRP) gives medical practitioners a natural way to boost your body’s ability to heal itself. PRP uses your own blood without additional medication, a popular new healing therapy.
Is Arthritis Reversible?

Is Arthritis Reversible?

The short answer to whether arthritis is reversible is no, it’s not. However, while joint damage resulting from arthritis can’t be cured, treatments and lifestyle changes can help you live a comfortable, mobile life, in spite of the condition.
Can Sciatica Switch Sides?

Can Sciatica Switch Sides?

It’s estimated that up to 43% of Americans have a sciatica experience at some point. This pain syndrome results from irritation of the sciatic nerve. While sciatica symptoms usually affect just one side of your body at a time, they can switch sides.
5 Myths and Facts About IV Vitamin Therapy

5 Myths and Facts About IV Vitamin Therapy

The quickest way to provide your system with hydration, medication, and nutrients is through an intravenous (IV) infusion. That’s why IV poles are so prominent in hospitals. Therapeutic vitamin therapy is also an option for everyday health. 
How Can I Treat Chronic Pain Without Medication?

How Can I Treat Chronic Pain Without Medication?

Chronic pain — symptoms lasting three months or more — can be difficult to manage. Medications may work in the short term, but side effects and drug dependence make them less than ideal for chronic issues. Do you have alternatives without medicine?