Understanding the Connection Between Stress and Pain

You may know that prolonged stress increases your likelihood of experiencing depression and heart disease, but you may not realize it can cause physical pain as well. The connection between pain and stress finally became clear after a study from Carnegie Mellon University revealed the symbiotic relationship that creates a cycle between stress and pain.

If you have chronic pain and ongoing stress, our expert team at Boston PainCare can help you break the cycle and manage your pain so that you can get back to your life and the things you love.

Which came first, the stress or the pain?

Stress occurs when you experience challenging psychological and emotional events. If your stress is chronic, meaning it goes on and on with no relief, it can begin to affect your body. Excessive mental stress decreases your body’s ability to regulate cortisol—the hormone that controls inflammation. As a result, you not only have a hard time fighting off certain infections and viruses, you may also feel pain, since inflammation is one of the main reasons your body experiences pain.

Physical pain occurs for myriad reasons, including injury, disease, surgery, and even depression, but can also be caused by chronic stress. Studies show that 20-30% of adults report chronic pain and a decreased quality of life because of it. The inability to move freely without pain triggers psychological stress, which in turn inhibits cortisol production, and continues the vicious cycle.

How to break the cycle of pain and stress

Regardless of which came first in your life, pain or stress, the other likely followed. To give yourself the best chance of conquering, or at least decreasing, your pain level, start by tackling your stress. The less stress you feel, the better your brain will be able to interpret pain signals from your body and help heal it. A stressed brain can’t filter those signals properly and may perceive a higher pain level than is actually present.

Clearly, stress relief is the key. Here are a few ways you can stifle stress.

Sleep well

Your body needs a solid night’s sleep to restore and regenerate. But if you’re too stressed to sleep, you’ll be less equipped to handle your stress—yet another cruel cycle. Make drifting off to sleep a little easier by trying these tips at least half an hour before bedtime:

Ensuring proper sleep helps lower your stress and your pain. If you can’t seem to go to sleep or stay asleep long enough to rejuvenate your body and mind, our team members at Boston SleepCare can assess your quality of rest through a sleep study to help you safely relax and restore at night.

Be active

Unless your chronic pain prevents you from all physical activity, do what you can to move your body. When you exercise, your mind stays more alert and helps you deal with stress more effectively. It also prompts your body to release endorphins, your body’s natural painkiller. Walking, running, and yoga are some of the most popular activities for reducing stress.

Just say no

One of the most common sources of stress is an overcrowded schedule or to-do list. If you’re the go-to person for everyone in your life who needs help, it may be causing you stress and pain. Reflect on your schedule and prioritize the things that bring you joy. Learning to say no to the nonessentials can help you manage your pain and stress.

Get peace

From apps to self-help books, support groups to breathing exercises, there are countless ways you can try to reduce your stress and up your peace quotient. The goal is to eliminate the things that overstimulate your senses. Cut back on screen time, sit someplace quiet, control your breathing, and just be still. Do whatever it is that makes you feel calm and peaceful.

Massage it out

Tightness in the neck, shoulders, and back are common complaints of stressed-out people. If that sounds familiar, a good massage could work wonders to stop your pain and stress. Relaxing those knots gives you an advantage when it comes to managing chronic pain and stress.

Whether your pain stems from long-term stress or something else, our team of pain management specialists address the complex condition of chronic pain management. We take an integrative, therapeutic approach that reduces your dependency on medications and increases you quality of life.

When you’re ready to live pain free, give us a call at any of our three locations to get started on your personal pain management journey.

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