Stress and Chronic Pain

Chronic pain can have a profound impact on a patient’s life. In the UK, approximately 28 million people are known to suffer from the condition. A report carried out by Versus Arthritis, revealed that 5.5 million people experience high-impact chronic pain. This means it has a significant impact on their daily lives.

While chronic pain is typically caused by an injury or a degenerative condition such as arthritis, it can also link to increased levels of stress. Here, we explore the link between stress and chronic pain, alongside the treatment options available.

How does stress link to chronic pain?

Stress and chronic pain often go hand in hand. It is no surprise given that stress causes pain and pain causes stress. The cycle can be difficult to break, leaving patients often feeling frustrated and defeated.

When you are stressed, it triggers the fight or flight response in the body. In short periods, this isn’t something to worry about. However, when the body is in constant fight or flight mode, it causes the systems to overwork themselves, leading to a range of problems.

When the body is in fight or flight mode, it directs blood flow to the impacted areas. This in turn reduces blood flow to other areas and organs. Additional cortisol is released, which can cause issues for the heart, lungs, bones, and digestive system. The muscles also tighten during periods of chronic stress. This can lead to pain and inflammation.

Both chronic stress and chronic pain can place a huge amount of pressure on the body. When it is under a tremendous amount of stress, it will lead to pain and fatigue.

PTSD, stress and chronic pain

Not only can stress worsen chronic pain symptoms, but it can also cause them. PTSD is a mental health condition linked to a traumatic event that can lead to an increase in chronic pain. Those who suffer from PTSD and chronic pain, tend to report a poorer quality of life, alongside increased pain compared to those without both conditions together.

One study found that 50% of volunteer firefighters who suffered from PTSD, also experienced pain. Out of the firefighters who didn’t have PTSD, just 20% experienced pain. This shows a direct link between conditions such as PTSD and chronic pain.

The reason why PTSD can cause chronic pain is down to anxiety and stress. These common symptoms of the condition cause the muscles to tighten and tense up. Your sensitivity to pain also increases if you have prolonged and excessive cortisol levels, as this depletes the adrenaline glands.

These are just some of the reasons PTSD sufferers may experience an increase in chronic pain symptoms.

What treatments work best to reduce chronic pain?

Everyone experiences pain differently. Therefore, when it comes to treating chronic pain, an individual plan needs to be created. After a clinical assessment, a medication review and correction plan will be developed. Medication is one of the leading ways to control and manage chronic pain.

Dr Ivanova Stoilova will be able to assess the presentation and severity of your chronic pain and forward your treatment for psychological assessment and management as necessary. Book a consultation with Dr Stoilova today.