The Connection Between Stress and Pain

Woman experiencing stress

Stress is an inevitable part of life. Whether it’s balancing the many aspects of your day-to-day or navigating your way through the ever-changing “new normal” – there’s no magic formula out there to avoid it. And, if stress isn’t effectively managed, it can have a significant impact on your health and wellness. This includes how your body manages the balance between stress and pain.

Given the extraordinarily stressful times we are living through right now, it’s more important than ever for those living with joint pain to acknowledge and manage their stress. So, we talked with Robert Dean, M.D., founder of AROmotion, to get the medical facts on stress and pain as well as his tips on daily stress and joint pain management.

What is Stress?

“To put it into very simple terms, stress is the body’s reaction to change,” says Dr. Dean. “When stress occurs, the body must adjust physically, mentally, or emotionally. The good news is that our bodies are designed to respond to certain amounts of stress, which helps us react and cope accordingly.”

What happens, then, when we are living through times of significantly increased stress like we are right now? According to Dr. Dean, this is when we must pause and find ways to prioritize wellness and stress management. This is especially important, he says, for those who are currently living with chronic joint pain.

“It’s crucial to develop good stress management skills in order to help manage joint pain,” says Dean. “Even during times of heightened stress, it is possible to make small changes to your daily routine that will help.”

The Stress-Pain Connection

Before we get Dr. Dean’s tips for managing stress and joint pain, let’s get a better idea of why stress and pain are inextricably linked. According to the Arthritis Foundation, your body’s stress response triggers the release of chemicals that ready you to face the challenge at hand, and when it fires repeatedly, the increased tension in your muscles can amplify your arthritis pain. Stress also sets off the immune system’s inflammatory response, which can fuel joint pain.

“There is no escaping the connection between stress and pain,” says Dr. Dean. “I always tell my patients that we cannot control the outside factors creating stress in our lives, but we can in fact help control how we react to it.”

Simple Ways to Manage Stress and Pain from Dr. Dean

So, when it comes time to advise his patients on how to put stress management for pain into practice, what exactly does Dr. Dean tell them? While the exact list may vary by patient depending on their situation, here are his constant tips for how those living with joint pain – and everyone- can better manage stress:

  • Keep Moving: stress can cause fatigue, which in turn may lead some to stop their daily workout routines. However, daily movement is one of the easiest and healthiest ways to combat stress. So, whether it’s a yoga class, the treadmill, or a walk around the neighborhood – be sure to either keep up with your daily movement or start something new.
  • Eat Well: stress can also create cravings for “comfort foods” that are typically higher in calories and processed ingredients. To avoid feeling sluggish or gaining weight during times of stress, it’s recommended to stick to a balanced diet that includes whole foods like fruits and veggies, healthy fats, and lean proteins.
  • Create a Relaxation Ritual: whether it’s a warm bath, a walk with your dog, or sitting down for a quiet dinner with your significant other, creating a daily relaxation ritual will not only help curb stress, it will give you something to look forward to every day.
  • Shut Down: today’s 24-hour news and social media cycle has caused us to become dependent on our smart phones for constant updates. Pick a set time each day to shut down and step away from your devices so you can do other things like mindful meditation, journaling, or just sitting and relaxing. And, you should always shut down before you go to bed as blue light from your devices will disrupt your sleep cycle.
  • Talk to Your Doctor: if you are finding stress and joint pain management to be difficult, talk with your doctor about what solutions may be best for you.

“While stress management can help when dealing with joint pain, you may also find that your pain is not subsiding even when you are doing all the right things,” says Dr. Dean. “If this is the case, AROmotion may be able to help by offering a non-surgical treatment that stops joint pain fast while promoting healing and strengthening.”

If you are living with knee, hip, or shoulder pain and would like a free consultation with Dr. Dean, just fill out the form below to request your telephone or in-office appointment today.

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