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Why Does Stress and Anxiety Cause Joint Pain?

Man showing stress at deskLife is full of stressful situations. You may feel stress over meeting a deadline, managing finances, or even something as simple as getting the kids out the door in the mornings (ok, maybe NOT so simple).

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Seven out of ten adults in the United States say they experience stress or anxiety daily, and most say it interferes at least moderately with their lives.”

Stress has become such a part of daily life that many people don’t realize it’s a problem until symptoms become unbearable, and sometimes, irreversible.

How Does the Body Respond to Stress?

When faced with danger, a chemical reaction occurs in your body which allows you to act quickly. This reaction, also known as the “fight-or-flight” or “stress response”, is your body’s way of keeping you safe from harm. Unfortunately—the body can’t always discern between a legitimate threat and the pressure of daily life.

Any stressful situation—from narrowly avoiding a head-on collision to being stuck in a traffic jam—can trigger this response causing the heart rate to increase, blood pressure to rise, and muscles to tighten.

Chronic Stress and Long-term Joint Health

Aches and pains are common symptoms of stress, however, ongoing pain or stiffness may be a sign of a more serious problem.

A 2018 study published by PubMed revealed “Stress-related disorders were significantly associated with risk of subsequent autoimmune disease.”

Autoimmune diseases cause your immune system to produce antibodies which attack and damage the body’s healthy tissue instead of fighting infection. In certain conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, the antibodies attach to connective tissue within the joints leading to pain, stiffness, swelling, and—without treatment—potentially permanent joint damage.

Autoimmune diseases are often incurable; however, early intervention and treatment can help prevent further damage and joint deterioration.

Symptoms of Stress and Anxiety

Stress can wreak havoc on your mind and body. In small doses, the stress response can improve alertness and sharpen senses; however, chronic stress can lead to serious problems such as cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal problems, and autoimmune disease. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms on an ongoing basis.

Mental/Emotional Symptoms:

  • Moodiness
  • Distraction
  • Forgetfulness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression

Physical Symptoms:

  • Aches, pains, and tension
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Chest pain
  • Nervousness
  • Digestive problems
  • Low energy levels
  • Frequent colds or infections

How to Reduce Stress-Related Joint Pain

We can’t exactly remove stress from our lives, but there are ways to ease symptoms.

  • Identify triggers: Write in a journal and look for patterns. Once you’ve identified them, try to find ways around them.
  • Eat well: Not only is a healthy diet essential in maintaining a healthy weight, certain foods can also help decrease pain and inflammation. Click here for more on diet and joint pain>>
  • Ask for help: You’re not alone. If you feel overwhelmed, ask for help.
  • Stay active: Exercise plays an important role in both mental and physical health. Incorporate walking, yoga, or other activities into your daily routine. **Depending on medical conditions and fitness levels, there may be activities you should avoid. Talk to your doctor to determine a routine that’s right for your body.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine: Alcohol and caffeine can intensify anxiety and joint pain. Stick to water when you can.
  • Stay positive: Try to look at the bright side of things. It’s not always easy, but your body will thank you.

Joint Preservation CenterThe Joint Preservation Center at Towson Orthopaedic Associates offers an innovative, personalized approach to long-term joint health. Utilizing early diagnosis, intervention, and the latest techniques, our orthopaedic surgeons can restore and preserve the joint’s natural ability, which makes it possible to avoid more invasive surgeries and prolonged rehabilitation. Are you suffering from persistent joint pain or stiffness? Call 410-337-7900 to schedule an evaluation or click here to learn how we can help preserve or restore the health of your joints.

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