The Connection between Chronic Pain and Stress
This month, I’m discussing the connection between chronic pain and stress. I’ve just returned from a two week holiday with my family, so the impact of rest and relaxation on health is top most in my mind. We caught some waves, walked the coast line, read books and shared long, lazy meals with family and friends. Rest and relaxation are vital for all of us and can be difficult to find for those with fibromyalgia or other chronic widespread pain conditions. This article provides some insights on the connection between chronic pain and stress and why it is worth attention.
The connection between chronic pain and stress is an interesting one, in that you can approach it from different angles. The research shows an association between trauma – either physical or psychological – and the start of chronic pain syndromes such as fibromyalgia. In other words, stress can act as a trigger for chronic pain symptoms.
The Connection between Physical Stress and Chronic Pain
One type of trigger is from physical stressors. These can take different forms. Operations can act as triggers for long-term pain. Infections are another physical stressor and, after living with COVID-19 for more than a year, are in our minds right now. Studies have shown that there is a higher incidence of a stomach parasite, Helicobacter Pylori and chronic widespread pain. Epstein-Barr virus (the cause of glandular fever) and other viral infections are also a suspected trigger for long term and widespread pain. There are studies looking at Lyme Disease and pain conditions. Joint pain is also listed as a symptom in Long-COVID. These physical stressors – or triggers – need to be considered when putting together a plan to unpick the complexities of chronic widespread pain conditions.
The Connection between Psychological Stress and Chronic Pain
Psychological stressors are also associated with the development of fibromyalgia and other widespread pain conditions. This can take many forms, from physical or sexual abuse to workplace bullying, a heavy workload or death of a loved one. These psychological stressors are not a cause of chronic pain pe se. But, put together with a combination of genetics and other predisposing factors, are associated with the development of pain conditions.
Having worked with many people in chronic pain – and having been there myself – it is clear that being in chronic pain is a stress in itself. The physiological mechanisms involved with the production of stress hormones can perpetuate the feelings of pain. They also exacerbate poor sleep and low mood.
People with fibromyalgia have been shown to have a heightened perception of stress and in my opinion, this is hardly surprising. Living with daily pain puts you on high alert to any potential assault. I remember the bitter-sweet feelings (and STRESS!) that I felt when my 5 year old bundle of energy came whizzing towards me in excitement at the end of a school day. I wanted him to hurl himself at me with enthusiasm – which he did! However, I also dreaded the pain that came with that jolt and sudden movement. The stress we feel in these moments perpetuates the pain we are in. It drains us of energy we don’t have (stress is energy demanding) and leads to a negative cycle of stress-pain-stress-pain.
Simple Steps You Can Take
Eating well provides your body with the fuel it needs to repair and recover. It feels good to have something within your control. Read this blog post for some easy to implement tips to get you on your journey to a healthy, delicious diet.
Everyone’s journey into pain is unique – and your path out will be unique as well. Nutritional Therapy works well for complex widespread pain conditions, as it is flexible enough – whilst working safely within the available science – to take each individual into account when deciding on the best way forward. There are no standard protocols in Nutritional Therapy. We start from where you are standing and move at a comfortable pace from there.
What I hope that this blog has done is made it clear that there is a connection between chronic pain and stress. Take some steps to address your stress, as it is an important part of your journey to recover. Take some time to rest and repair. Incorporate some deep breathing into your day, take a warm bath or stop and listen to some music. Be KIND to yourself.
If you would like to discuss your own situation with chronic pain, you can book a free call with me. It is worth investing in your health so you can get your life back on track. Call me to find out how nutritional therapy may be able to help you.