Stress and Chronic Pain
Stress is a natural phenomenon that affects the mind, body and soul. It is highly subjective and usually depends on the individual’s perception on the causes of stress. Stress can be beneficial or harmful. With the right amount of stress, one may gain success or fulfillment in life. However, too much of stress can lead to an impediment of health. It can make us physically sick. It dampens the immune system and dries out the digestive tract, setting the stage for disorders from irritable bowel syndrome to ulcerative colitis. It impairs memory and in extreme cases fuels anxiety. It can even gnaw away at the ends of chromosomes, thereby accelerating cellular aging. Not only that, at Healthworks, we have seen many with chronic pain being affected by stress. Most of their recovery really depends on their stress level.
How does stress relate to chronic pain?
When the body is stressed, muscles tense up. Muscle tension is almost a reflex reaction to stress — the body’s way of guarding against injury and pain. With sudden onset stress, the muscles tense up all at once, and then release their tension when the stress passes. Chronic stress causes the muscles in the body to be in a more or less constant state of guardedness. When muscles are taut and tense for long periods of time, this may trigger other reactions of the body and even promote stress-related disorders. For example, both tension-type headache and migraine headache are associated with chronic muscle tension in the area of the shoulders, neck and head. Musculoskeletal pain in the low back and upper extremities has also been linked to stress, especially job stress.
How do I know if my pain is related to stress?
Firstly, stress does not only focus on pain, it can contribute to a list other signs and symptoms. Here are some of them:
- Frequent headaches, jaw clenching or pain
- Gritting, grinding teeth
- Stuttering or stammering
- Tremors, trembling of lips, hands
- Neck ache, back pain, muscle spasms
- Light headedness, faintness, dizziness
- Ringing, buzzing or “popping sounds
- Frequent blushing, sweating
- Cold or sweaty hands, feet
- Dry mouth, problems swallowing
- Frequent colds, infections, herpes sores
- Rashes, itching, hives, “goose bumps”
- Unexplained or frequent “allergy” attacks
- Heartburn, stomach pain, nausea
- Excess belching, flatulence
- Constipation, diarrhea, loss of control
- Difficulty breathing, frequent sighing
- Sudden attacks of life threatening panic
- Chest pain, palpitations, rapid pulse
- Frequent urination
However, despite the usual signs and symptoms, following up with a medical doctor for a proper stress test should be done.
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