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Why does stress effect pain levels?

flower12345fflower12345 Posts: 62
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:48 AM in Chronic Pain
Does anyone know why? Scientifically, I mean.




  • What a good question. I've heard that stress causes more pain from my surgeon, doctor, pain management classes, in fact from everyone, but like you, I've never been aware of any scientific reason.

    Maybe when we're stressed, not only do we 'tense up', but perhaps we release some 'bad' hormone/chemical that goes straight to our weakest parts of the body. I sometimes wonder about this because not only does my back pain get worse, but my tummy suffers from all sorts of problems when I'm stressed.

    Or maybe it's atmospheric? There's a difference between 'stress' and 'distress' (though I'm not sure exactly what it is). Perhaps when the weather is bad (like in the UK at the moment it is dull, damp, grey and dismal - ha! as usual!), perhaps the lack of light makes us feel more depressed (SAD I think they call it). Anyway, with that and the damp conditions, perhaps that increases our pain levels.

    I dunno!!!! Just guessing.
    2 x Microdiscectomy 2005 / PLIFusion 2-level 2010 / revision surgery 2011 / NEVRO Senza spinal cord stimulator implanted February 2013. I WILL NOT GIVE IN / UP !!
  • The autonomic nervous system, starts to increase activity, the fight or flight response. Once this gets triggered, you either have no way to step this down again and so the reactions get faster, and due to that, your muscles stay tensed and this keeps increasing.

    The only way to beat this, is very specific way of de-stressing. It takes practice and after awhile, you can invoke what is called a "relaxation response".

    By being able to do this every day, you destress yourself and keep things low. When something happens and your feel your body tense, you can do this, and reduce it within short order.

    Meditation! Takes 5 to 15 minutes and you can feel the response, when you are tuned to it.

    Cheers - C458
  • The mind body connection is complicated, the two school of thoughts on this that I have come across are 1) Essentially deep breathing, relaxation, & dissociation (imagine the area of pain in another part of your body or even outside of your body) 2) When in chronic pain the body produces hormones that cause anxiety, and less endorphins, which are the bodies natural painkillers.
  • Actually, I never consider to disassociate, to do so, in effect means that I am trying to remove or separate from something that is a part of myself. Since I have been with this for decades, it has been a very long-term lab experiment, with me as both guinea pig and researcher. To consider distancing myself from me, in my life, had lead to a view that I was fighting with myself. Sadly, that just increased stress.

    Yes - chronic does have a negative effect on endorphins, but there are ways to trip them. Humour, positive attitude, Sex, music, computer games all kinds of things, have a synergistic effect on felt discomfort [pain]. Some are distraction, but it is all about finding the ones that flip your buttons and lessen things.

    It has always been about being curious, about it, each and every day.
  • I've tried disassociation, and it doesn't quite work for me. But, keeping with deep breathing, meditation and other relaxation techniques really helps. I unfortunately am a person who takes on the fight aspect of the flight or fight theory, and even the simplest of things (like even the phone ringing) sets me off, keeping my muscles tight and sore pretty much all of the time, so I practice all the time.
    APROUD CANADIANveteranButNOTa doctor, my thoughts are my own
  • I think we are all individuals and need to find what works for us. I have tried meditation and found I could arrest the pain for about 30 seconds but I found the level of concentration hard....needs practice.

    The one thing that really helps me is Rieki (is that how ou spell it??). My friend is a Master Teacher and she does me once a week. It is incredibly relaxing and is the only time (bar being unconcious) that I have no pain. I always come away feeling good and very calm. It helps me B)

  • Lotus, you're absolutely correct in two things: one, it does take practice, and 2: unfortunately it isn't for everyone.
    APROUD CANADIANveteranButNOTa doctor, my thoughts are my own
  • It probably also has to do with the levels of neurotransmitters and other hormones in the body.

    Remember that our nerves communicate via chemicals, and different emotional states are acutally alterations of the levels of those chemicals. So any change in emotional state can change not only our senses, but our perception of those senses (once the signals get to the brain, the brain has to then "decode" the signals- and since the brain is a computer whose circuit boards are also chemical-based, emotional states affect perception as well).
  • One of the reasons CP patients get so tired and can suffer with other issues such as depression is this very cause,and the ways in which we deal with it.Dealing with CP every day,and pain does cause stress to our brains,also wears us out both physically and emotionally.

    We all know the frustration that comes when someone close to us or even a person we love doesn't seem to understand what we are dealing with,and a part of us knows or feels that if only they did that somehow a small amount of that weight would be lessened.In actuality it would not,we would only be grateful that someone understood what we were dealing with,but we would still have to deal with our own bodies alone.

    Yes it would feel great to be understood,but other than that nothing about US has changed,we still have to deal with the work on our own,and that is the real frustration-that we can't give it away for even a minute.It's tiresome and causes a great deal of stress every waking moment if we let it.If we don't stay on top of it continuously it comes on like a shadow in the night,or clouds in the sky..I don't really know how to describe it,but it comes on slowly whenever we let down our guard.

    I know it sounds as though I'm having a pity party,but not so,I'm just one of you trying to get by every single day.To be an active member of society and keep a smile on my face,but I know that the smile does not always reach the eyes of a CP patient and I know why.. and when it does I am so happy.Not very scientific,but I think the fight or flight explanation Centurion45 mentioned
    was right,though the thing we fight is within us.Just my two cents...
  • j.howiejj.howie Brentwood, Ca., USAPosts: 1,730
    And centurion45, and Robin seem to have answers that make sense to me.
    My mom is dying of cancer. My Sib's and I provide 24-7 care for her. And are all type A individuals. 6 of us. So besides my everyday life and this situation. And the fact that I've had a tremendous setback from my last surgery. I seem to be in more pain (from the stress)
    I just got back from a vacation on the Oregon coast. And the sea seems to calm me and allow me to meditate without even knowing that, that's what I'm doing. And I love to travel. That also gets my mind off of stressful life.
    I've only been home 2 days. And even though there is a lot of clean up work to do when you get back. And that is physical. So it causes more pain.
    But it's much more than that. I'm back home, where the stress lurks. And my pain levels have already increased. I wish I knew how to put myself back in that vac. mode on the coast. In my mind while I'm back in my normal life.
    I probably need lessons on how to meditate! centurion 45 it looks like you have discovered it.
    I've been seeing a pain psych for years. And it's what she suggests. But I just don't have it down.
    Maybe some day I will.
    Click my name to see my Medical history
    You get what you get, not what you deserve......I stole that from Susan (rip)
    Today is yours to embrace........ for tomorrow, who knows what might be starring you in the face!
  • Simply put, there is a chemical explanation for this. Stress is the key to preparing your body for the fight or flight response. Back in ancient times, this meant, holy poop! Here comes a waterbuffalo! I either need to kill it and eat it, or high tail it out of here immediately! The brain recognizes the threat, and produces cortisol, adrenaline, and a few other very helpful hormones to stimulate your nerves and muscles and make it easier for you to spring to action. Fast forward to modern times. You're at your desk, drinking your strong cup of coffee, reading the emails that tell you you have a million things on your list today, when the boss calls and says, 'did you book a hotel room for that guest who is arriving this afternoon? My computer is on the fritz and can you get someone to look at it? The toilet in the men's bathroom is overflowing, can you call facilities? Prof so-and-so just said the copier is down. You notice the other line is ringing and it's the school nurse saying your kid is sick and you need to come and get him NOW! Brain says WATERBUFFALO!! Body says, oh poop! What do I do first? Most responses require little physical action, but the body is ready, nerves are twitching, muscles ready to pounce. Instead, we get aches, pains, and a severe headache. End of story.

    3 level spinal fusion, L3/4, L4/5, L5/S1, November 2008. Stiff, but I can walk.
  • yes stress can make pain levels go up
  • Jim, I have used this for years. Many years! The trick is making, finding a mp3 or wav file, that has something that speaks to you. Once you find something that works, use it, and then record your own "tape".

    With PC's - you can use things like Goldwave to make a recording and just use a plug-in mike to your PC.

    I have recordings for anything from 3 min to 60. They all are on my ipod and PC. I just pop open what I think I need and follow along, with the recording. [PM me and I could place them in a spot, where you can grab them.]

    I do this for reiki, Qijong, meditation, whatever I need. I just pull outta the hat an idea and put on the earphones, and close the eyes. The key - is closing the eyes, and then just trying not to allow yourself to judge anything that goes on. After awhile, you may notice how judgmental your self-talk is. The key then - is to imagine sitting on the edge of a stream, and watch all of the thoughts go by, as if the thoughts were water. Just enjoy after that.

    One key - if you have discomfort come back quickly, you may find that your not finishing off the session softly enough. Try telling yourself, "I am going to carry all of these great feelings and thoughts with me, for the rest of the day and revisit this when I go to sleep tonight, and I will let go of discomfort for the rest of the day. I will not focus on it, I may notice it, but only to remind myself to grab my BT meds and then it will leave my mind, just as quick as taking the meds does. "
  • I was going to add a post about the depression-anxiety-pain connection. Glad to find this one because you guys can relate to what I've been going through for many years. My depression and anxiety affects my pain, and then my pain affects my depression and anxiety. It's crazy, and it makes it difficult for me to "suck it up". The only thing that helps me mentally is social interaction. Sadly I am alone most of the time...alone with my wicked thoughts. Sometimes I feel like I am going to lose it and have a breakdown, especially when the meds, the ice, the heat and PT don't help. But I have to keep it together for the sake of my husband. He deals with so much stress at work. I can't burden him with my issues.

    I'm sure I've shared too much and opened myself up for criticism. I just had to get this out in the open.
  • Well I dont know exactally why BUT I do know that is does make the pain worse....My office is connected to a rental house here on the property and the woman who lives there is cert crazy and when she gets in her "moods" and starts hitting her kids and tearing up her house and screaming it really makes it painful to try and do my job!!!

    Sorry for the long post...LOL
  • causes the release of additional Cortisol, which inhibits the release of your natural endorphins, thereby increasing your pain.

  • Cent, I got it and want to tell you THANK YOU SOOOOO much!!!!
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