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Sunday, June 27, 2010

How stress affects chronic pain

Having pain every minute of every day is not a lot of fun, but what makes it worse is knowing that every day things can make it worse. Changes in hormones and regular body changes before during and after menstruation make the pain worse. Stress also makes the pain worse. Stress often causes people to tighten up their muscles, without being aware they are doing so. This tightening can cause muscle spasms in some people (people like me with nerve damage or back issues for example) and just the added tension of tight muscles will increase the pain. The mental aspects of stress (such as whirling thoughts etc) lower my ability to deal with or pretty much ignore pain that is between a 2 or 5 on the pain scale. Instead, because my mind is so overwhelmed and I am mentally/emotionally exhausted, my coping skills are low and pain that is at a 2 might feel like it is at a 4. My pain tolerance goes down. This seems to be true for most CP (Chronic Pain) patients that I know.

Fighting pain, dealing with it, and/or just ignoring it every minute of every day takes a great deal of energy. If my energy is focused elsewhere (by whatever stressful situation is going on) then I have less energy to deal with my pain. This can cause me to feel more pain than usual, or even other symptoms such as all-over achiness that I do not normally have. I find myself napping multiple times a day and still sleeping for a minimum of 6 hours (or more) at night, I am tired after being awake for just a couple hours.

Facing a possible mastectomy and cancer diagnosis is extremely stressful, and it is affecting my pain levels. The fear, the unknown, the being left in the dark right now isn't helping either. My pain is higher than usual, my tolerance is lower, and my skin is now sensitive to touch. Even a light hug with arms around my shoulders causes my entire back and pelvis to throb. This doesn't usually happen unless I am in a severe pain crisis. I know most of this is caused by the stress and worry I am feeling. I am trying to keep myself from going nuts, doing deep breathing, meditating, stitching, cleaning (My bedroom looks MUCH better now!) and other means of stress relief, but it isn't making the stress go away. These things are simply keeping me from going insane and just running away somewhere.

So how does stress affect chronic pain? It makes it worse.


  1. Missy

    Your correlation between chronic pain and stress has been an observation that I have seen over the past 6 years of assessing patients with chronic pain. I am a rehabilitation specialist from Canada. My practice is 80% chronic pain. I personally do not experience chronic pain but I have to sympathize and I often feel the stress and overwhelming weight on my shoulder at the end of my days.

    Please review the blog that a psychiatrist and I have been developing on our experience with managing chronic pain.


  2. Dr. Irvine,

    I am touched to see a doctor who deals with chronic pain patients is reading blogs written by such patients. This shows me that you genuinely care about your patients and are seeking to understand them better.

    Thank you for your comment, I appreciate it. I would love to review the blog you mention but can not find it. Your profile on Blogger is not visible and you left me no link to the blog. If you could please give me the link I will check it out.

    Thank you

  3. The link to the blog is as follows:



Thank you for taking the time to read and/or comment on my blog. For people who are chronically ill and/or in constant pain, it can be difficult to socialize as frequently as we would like to do so. Talking with others online is a way for us to socialize, chat with others, make new friends, reach out to others in similar circumstances and many more positive effects.

Knowing that someone has read my posts and commented on it, helps in many ways. The biggest two being that it helps ease the feeling of being "alone" and that no one could possibly understand. Secondly, it reminds us that others truly do care and that just feels wonderful!!

Thank you very much for taking the time to read and/or comment on my blog, it really does mean a great deal to me and is helpful too!