Is Stress Making Your Joint Pain Worse?
Tips to Find Relief

For many of us, stress is just a part of being human. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our busy lives and put self-care on the back burner, but doing that for too long can start to take a serious toll on your body. Stress and pain are often linked, and chronic stress can worsen long-term pain, stiffness, and other joint problems.

If you’re dealing with aches and pains in your bones, joints, or muscles, now is the perfect time to start prioritizing stress management and self-care.

What is stress?

Stress is your body’s “fight-or-flight” response to something your brain sees as a threat. It helps you react quickly in life-threatening situations, like swerving just in time to avoid a car crash. When your brain registers a danger, it tells your body to release a rush of stress hormones, triggering important changes in your body to help you escape or defeat a threat, including:

  • Raising your heart rate, which increases blood flow to your muscles, heart, and other organs
  • Making you breathe faster, which sends extra oxygen to your brain, makes you more alert, and sharpens your senses
  • Releasing stored blood sugar, which gives you a burst of energy

Your stress response doesn’t just kick in during life-threatening situations, though. It can also be set off by everyday things, such as work pressure, paying bills, fighting with a friend, or being embarrassed. When your body overreacts to these common stressors, it can start to affect your physical and mental health.

Long-term stress has been linked to an increased risk of:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease, heart attack, and stroke
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Tension headaches and migraines
  • Back pain
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Chronic fatigue

Why does stress cause joint pain?

Stress puts your body on high alert, but it’s not supposed to last for days or weeks on end. Over time, the effects of stress can cause muscle tension and stiffness that make joint pain worse. Long-term stress can also lead to unhealthy chronic inflammation. Normally, your body uses inflammation as a temporary tool to fight off bacteria or heal damaged tissue. With chronic inflammation, your immune system keeps sending out cells to fight a threat that isn’t there. So, instead of helping you heal, the inflammation actually leads to symptoms including:

  • Bone and muscle damage
  • Increased pain
  • Fatigue
  • Memory problems
  • Depression

On top of inflammation and muscle tension, stress may also make you more sensitive to pain. So, when you’re stressed, you’re more likely to notice even small changes in your joint pain. (It doesn’t help that pain is a powerful stressor, so living with long-term pain may make you more likely to have chronic stress.)

Tips for managing stress-related joint pain

Pain and stress often go hand-in-hand, and reducing stress can be an important tool for managing chronic pain. The goal isn’t to remove all sources of stress in your life, though. Instead, aim to find healthy ways to deal with stress as it pops up—before it starts to affect your health. Here are some tips to help:

Be active.

Any exercise that gets your blood pumping and your heart rate up can help improve your mood and decrease the effects of stress on your body. Plus, exercise can help build muscle, reduce joint stiffness, and increase your range of motion. Find an active hobby you love, like swimming, dancing, or walking, and try to do it regularly. Just make sure your healthcare provider approves any new physical activity!

Eat healthy.

Stress can trigger cravings for comfort foods that are high in salt and sugar and low in nutritional value. Even if they taste amazing at the moment, these foods often leave you feeling even worse. Try choosing healthy foods that can help reduce the effects of stress on the body and decrease inflammation, including:

  • Whole grains
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Lean proteins
  • Fish and other sources of omega-3 fatty acids

Start a relaxation practice.

Relaxation can reduce stress and help relieve joint pain, so try to carve out some “me time” in your schedule. Let yourself slow down for a little bit and explore a new relaxing hobby or activity to help with stress and pain relief, such as:

  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Deep breathing
  • Warm baths
  • Massages
  • Gentle stretching

Spend time outdoors.

Spending time outdoors, surrounded by nature, may lower stress and help you feel happier in your day-to-day life. When stress and pain make it hard to leave the house, even sitting outside on a porch and appreciating the greenery around your home can help. On days you’re feeling better, try walking through a local park, hiking, or doing some work in the garden.

Ask for help.

If you’re living with long-term pain, you’ve probably found out that pushing your body too hard can cause your symptoms to flare up. The same thing can happen with stress symptoms when you put too much on your plate. Practice self-care by being honest with yourself and others when you need an extra hand.

Talk to someone.

You don’t have to deal with long-term stress or pain on your own. Sharing your feelings and experiences with someone you trust can take some of the burden off your shoulders and help you feel supported when you need it most.

How Carrum Health can help

Life gets stressful from time to time. That’s natural. Long-term pain isn’t. If you’re living with chronic pain and your employer offers the Carrum Health benefit, we’re here to connect you to experts who can help you explore your options. Healthcare shouldn’t stress you out — register with Carrum Health today to start your journey toward affordable, lasting pain relief.

Find out if the Carrum Health benefit is available to you. Check your eligibility.

To learn more about living pain-free, read our post: A Fresh Start: Conquer Your Pain in 2024.

The information contained on this article are for informational purposes only. No material is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.