Chronic Pain and Stress: A Never-Ending Cycle?
Anyone who has suffered from chronic pain will know that it is rarely felt in isolation. Being in regular pain can have a profound effect on your physical and mental health, increasing levels of stress, anxiety and depression, and making every day an ongoing battle.
In this article we’re going to explore the link between chronic pain and stress and discuss a few of the methods you can use to better manage your pain and reduce your stress levels.
What is Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain is defined as a pain that fails to respond to medication and continues after the natural healing period of three months. Specific chronic pain is often felt in areas of the body such as the back, the neck and the shoulders, although it can occur anywhere. Experiencing chronic pain raises the blood pressure and can increase the risk of a heart attack, which is why it’s so important to explore every possible avenue in your search for relief.
Chronic pain can be caused by an initial injury, such as a pulled muscle or back strain. During the initial injury the nerves become damaged, which makes the pain more severe and longer-lasting. However, there are also plenty of other factors that can contribute to the development of chronic pain. As well as physical injuries, behavioural factors – such as what we think, feel and do – can also impact how you experience chronic pain.
How are Chronic Pain and Stress Linked?
Studies have found that there are significant overlaps between chronic pain and stress; in many cases, they can be said to be two sides of the same coin.
Stress can be associated with positive experiences, such as a marriage or job promotion, or even in a neutral way, such as when you’re absorbed in a task. It’s when the stress is associated with negative feelings, such as anger, anxiety – or, in this case, pain – that it can be so damaging.
Stress can be both the cause and the effect of chronic pain. When you feel chronic pain, you will come under a strong bout of stress because the pain affects your ability to work, to socialise, to exercise and to live a fulfilling life. The pain itself is also intensely uncomfortable. When you feel stressed, that aggravates the chronic pain, leading to more stress and trapping you in a vicious cycle.
As an example of this stress-chronic pain cycle in action, studies have shown that simply thinking or talking about a stressful event dramatically increases muscle tension in patients with chronic back pain.
How Can you Manage Chronic Pain and Stress?
Once you’re trapped in a cycle of chronic pain and stress, it can feel like there’s no way out. However, there are several treatments that can reduce stress and alleviate the symptoms of chronic pain to help you break that cycle.
Drugs such as sedatives, tranquilisers and NSAIDs are commonly used to treat chronic pain with varying results. However, there can be some unwelcome side-effects associated with these powerful drugs, so this is not always a treatment patients are happy to persevere with, particularly in the long term.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is the most studied psychotherapy for treating pain and is also an established treatment for stress, anxiety and depression. CBT is based on the understanding that thoughts, feelings and physical sensations are related; therapists use CBT to teach patients skills to better manage their pain.
Relaxation exercises can be used to calm your mind, relax your muscles, reduce the stress hormones in your blood and alleviate the symptoms of chronic pain. Techniques such as mindfulness training, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation and breathing techniques can all help to counteract the harmful effects of stress over time. However, simply doing activities that you find relaxing, such as gardening, going for a walk or listening to music, can also be beneficial.
There’s a huge amount of research out there that shows how regular physical activity increases your sense of wellbeing and reduces stress. There’s also some evidence to suggest that regular exercise can alleviate pain.
A British charity called the Cochrane Collaboration reviewed 34 studies that explored the role of exercise in treating fibromyalgia, a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body. It found that aerobic exercise improved overall wellbeing and might help to alleviate pain. Other evidence suggests that exercise designed to build muscle strength, such as lifting weights, could also help to reduce chronic pain.
By putting a patient in a trance-like state, a clinician can provide positive suggestions that will change the patient’s thought patterns and alter the way they perceive pain. One study showed that 71% of patients experienced reduced gastrointestinal pain and levels of stress and anxiety after hypnosis treatment.
To Better Days’ active patches can be used by chronic pain sufferers to improve the health of joints, muscles and nerves. The patches deliver vitamin D and dextrose directly into muscle and tissue, enabling you to feel the benefit after just 30 minutes. With regular use they can improve muscle, joint and nerve health, helping you to live your life without the restriction of chronic pain.
Find out more about how To Better Days patches work.
Don’t Give Up In Your Battle Against Chronic Pain
The most important message is not that stress and chronic back pain or shoulder and neck pain are linked, but that it is possible to break this frustrating and dangerous cycle.
There are several proven methods of reducing stress levels and counteracting chronic pain. Although there’s no guarantee that a certain technique will work for you, one or a combination of the treatments we’ve discussed may be able to give you the upper hand in your fight against chronic pain and stress and improve your quality of life.