Over the years many different conditions have been identified to account for pain. We have distilled them down to their root cause. Therefore the simplified breakdown for pain comes about due to one root cause … STRESS.
What is Stress?
The mere fact of being alive involves some form of stress. Stress can either be physical, emotional, or a combination of both. Stress is considered to be an event or demand that forces us to adapt. Sometimes the stress is to much for us to handle and our body or mind is brought to a breaking point. These events or demands can occur from external or internal factors and involve both good stress (eustress) and bad stress (distress).
- Being challenged in a healthy way (i.e. job promotion)
- Having some control and choice over the situation (i.e. getting married)
- Having the resources to deal with the challenge (i.e. optimum health)
- Having sufficient time to recover between challenges (i.e. exercise)
- Being challenged in an unhealthy way (i.e. death of a spouse)
- Having no control or choice in the situation (i.e. accident victim)
- Do not have the resources to deal with the challenge (i.e. health imbalances)
- Problem is complex and seemingly cannot be resolved (i.e. back pain)
Problems with stress occur when our physical and mental ability to cope is overwhelmed. As a species we are well adapted to short term acute stress but it is the unrelenting low grade chronic stress of our modern world that has become the enemy. Our adaptive coping mechanisms are not designed to deal with stress on a long term basis.
To deal with stress takes energy and when stress occurs over prolonged periods of time we deplete our energy which in turn causes a cascade of health problems — one of which is chronic pain.
You may have been diagnosed with disc ruptures, spinal stenosis, disc degeneration, or some other physical problem that is linked to your pain. What we are trying to impress upon you is that the pain you feel is made worse by stress and that stress can cause pain.
What Happens When You Get Stressed?
When you become stressed the body can go through 1400 chemical and 30 hormonal changes some of which can linger for hours after the incident. Over the millennia the human body has developed a unique and effective way to deal with acute stress. When we say acute stress, we are talking short term “fight or flight” stuff. Let’s say you step off the curb at a stop light, and look up to see a bus barrelling down on you. In this case the “fight” part doesn’t really apply but “flight” would be a good option.
This situation elicits a first level stress response which we’ll call the Alarm Reaction or mobilization of energy. The brain recognizes danger and gets you out of the way. Assuming that you’ve survived to live another day it will take several hours to clear out the chemical and hormonal changes that saved your life. This stress response system can be credited to our survival as a species.
The second stage of our stress response is called Resistance. Many of us are currently in this state. Our modern world has many stressors that we are unable to fight or flee from. A good example of this would be time pressures. Most of us work in environments with long work hours and performance expectations that create inconveniences in our social and emotional life. We generally have no control over work related expectations, so our body responds with chemical and hormonal changes which help us remain balanced and/ or improve our performance. The problem arises when the stressors don’t go away.
The primary hormones excreted from the adrenal glands during the Resistance stress response phase is cortisol.
Positive Cortisol Effects
- metabolism of glucose for energy
- mobilizing amino acids from protein for energy and immune system support
- breaking down fatty acids, body fat, for energy
- reducing inflammation
- maintenance of connective tissue (bones, ligaments, tendons, muscles, and skin)
- stimulating mental function
Negative Effects of Cortisol
- metabolic imbalances that lead to weight gain/ hypertension/ diabetes/ and high cholesterol
- breakdown of connective tissue (bones, ligaments, tendons, muscles, and skin)
- alterations in brain chemistry that lead to depression/ anxiety/ memory and concentration problems
- hormone imbalances
- immune system suppression
- increased inflammation
As you can see stress is both a critical aspect of maintaining health but if left unabated can disharmonize our body thus increasing our triggers to pain.