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  • Stress, Pain, and The Point of No Return

    stress pain cycle

    The Stress/Pain Link

    You may or may not have noticed, but when you’re stressed, even something like a small cut can be more painful or distracting than it otherwise would be. The more stressed you are, the worse your distraction or pain. That’s probably not too big a deal if you’ve only got a small cut or scrape, but what if you have fibromyalgia, chronic headaches, or some other painful condition? High amounts of stress could take your pain from awful to unbearable or from “I can manage” to “Where are my pain meds?” in a matter of minutes.

    The flip side is also true; pain makes your stress response overreact. Why? Because pain is itself a stressor to your body, and stress ratchets up your body and mind’s response to more stress in all kinds of way. This is what happens when you have a headache and practically bite someone’s head off for a comment or action that you otherwise would have let slide or maybe not even have noticed. The worse your headache, the more you over-react.

    Pain Has a Timeline

    The longer you’re in pain, the more stressed you are physically, mentally, and emotionally. I know I’ve experienced that, and I’m sure you have too. Pain wears you down.

    With each new stress you have to deal with, including the persistence of pain, your tolerance for pain decreases. Your threshold of pain (the minimum stimulus that you perceive as painful) decreases as well. That means that a light to moderate touch can eventually become painful. I see this phenomenon in my office all too often, sometimes unnceccesarily.

    Here’s the deal: In most cases, if you get treatment (massage, chiropractic adjustment, acupuncture, treatment by family doctor, etc.) within days or weeks of pain onset, you should get full resolution, barring complications

    Buuuutttt… If you wait months to get treatment, you might get full resolution (and you might not) but treatment time increases dramatically, as does the amount of effort you need to put into your own recovery.

    However, If you wait years to get treatment, (and there are a lot of people who do) you can achieve a reduction in symptoms but you probably won’t get full resolution. The pain will most likely become intractable, i.e. you’ll always have some degree of pain.

    The Takeaway

    There are 2 things I want you to take away from this post:

    1. Stress management really can help you manage your pain. It’s not a panacea and it won’t take all your pain away, but it will help make it more manageable.
    2. Get treatment for your pain as soon as possible. Quicker treatment means a fuller and quicker recovery. Chronic conditions like fibromyalgia are a little different, but the same idea applies. You need to limit the number of flares induced by overworking yourself, and you need to manage/treat your flares as soon as they hit.
    3. Share this with anyone who has stress or pain. OK, fine. There are 3 takeaways. I’m a rebel, you should know that by now.