Why Managing Stress is Crucial to Managing Chronic Pain

Separately, chronic pain and stress are highly complex and disruptive quality of life issues that can wreak havoc on your wellbeing. Together, they can be a formidable foe, placing considerable limitations on your life. Given that more than 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain and September is Pain Awareness Month, we thought we would shed some light on the negative effects that stress can have on pain.

As pain management specialists, our goal is to tackle chronic pain from every angle so that we can help our patients in North and South Carolina lead healthy and happy lives free from the bonds of constant discomfort. Though dealing symptomatically with chronic pain can help you find some relief, you can take specific actions that will reward you with long-term results, starting with managing your stress.

Which came first?

Medical researchers continue to study the relationship between stress and chronic pain, trying to distinguish between the chemical, physiological, and psychological factors, but the bottom line is that they agree that the two are inextricably linked. Here at our practice, we’ve long studied the connection between stress and pain and the problem often comes down to parsing out which one came first so that we can find the appropriate treatment plan for each individual case.

Humans operate on a fight-or-flight reflex, which is governed by your sympathetic nervous system, and when your stress levels are high, your three main stress hormones — cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine — course through your body. These hormones control your body’s functions, which is why your heart races, your muscles tense, and you break into a sweat in stressful situations.

Imagine that response happening throughout the day, several times a day, over the course of weeks, months, or even years, and you can begin to see the physical toll that chronic stress can have on your body. It’s for this reason that people who are under a great deal of stress often have back or neck problems.

On the other side of the equation, chronic pain that interferes with your life in significant ways can be the source of your stress, creating a vicious cycle of physical and mental discomfort. In other words, when you’re in pain, your body answers with the stress response described above, which only serves to worsen your discomfort.

Whichever came first, it’s important to break the chain and deal with your stress, which can vastly improve either scenario.

Tackling your stress

There are many ways you can better manage your stress, starting with getting the rest you need. A common characteristic of our patients who are dealing with both chronic stress and chronic pain is that they’re aren’t getting the sleep they need. If your pain is keeping you up, talk with us about ways we can help you get to sleep and stay asleep. Good restorative rest does wonders as your body takes this time to scan itself and send in healing resources wherever needed.

If you’re a parent, you’re probably familiar with the time-out. We’d like for you to occasionally put yourself on one any time stress levels begin to mount. Take a moment to breathe in deeply — sometimes just one minute of inhaling for four seconds and exhaling for four seconds can lower your heart rate considerably, allowing you to hit the reset button.

Meditation is something we highly recommend to our patients to help combat high stress and anxiety levels. There are dozens of apps you can download to your phone that guide you through a few minutes of relaxation and deep breathing to regulate yourself both physically and mentally.

Lastly, a little bit of exercise is a great way to combat stress. In fact, you can combine your relaxation with a little exercise by talking a nice long walk each day. Obviously, if your chronic pain stems from something that limits your mobility, talk to us about different ways you can keep your blood flowing to calm yourself.

If you’d like to learn more about the powerful effect that managing your stress can have on your chronic pain, please give us a call. You can also use the online scheduling tool found on this website to request an appointment.

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