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How does stress make chronic pain worse?

We know that stress and pain are closely linked, and pain flare ups often arise when we’re stressed. The volume of pain is turned up during the stress response, causing a release of the stress hormone cortisol. The body’s response to stress can increase muscle tightening, spasms, and inflammation, which exacerbates pain. Both chronic stress and pain also cause changes in the brain and nervous system that change how sensory information is processed. When the nervous system is in a constant state of overdrive, the body doesn’t get the rest it needs. This state of prolonged stress increases pain sensitivity, lowers your threshold for pain, and affects your ability to cope with the pain – creating an ongoing cycle. 

The effects of prolonged stress compound over time, which is why it is important to adopt supportive habits and coping mechanisms to help relieve stress. Stay active with lower impact activities, which are gentler on the body but still offer the benefits of movement while boosting your mood. Developing good sleep habits, eating a healthy diet, reframing unhelpful thoughts and attitudes about pain, reaching out for support, and practicing relaxation techniques can also help break the stress-pain cycle and improve your quality of life.

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