Stress, cortisol and chronic pain

During times of stress, it’s not unusual to see an increase in our body’s inflammation response and the onset or return of chronic pain. This can be especially true of knee pain, back pain and neck pain.

When our bodies are stressed, our immune function is always affected. This is largely because stress involves what we know as the “stress hormone” — cortisol.

In addition to being the principle modulator of our body’s “fight or flight” response, cortisol works with parts of the gut-brain axis to control mood, motivation and fear.

Studies have demonstrated that elevated cortisol levels for extended periods of time can have a negative impact on the adrenal system. We often see this referred to by a non-medical term: “adrenal fatigue”. This term is applied to a collection of nonspecific symptoms, such as body aches, fatigue, nervousness, sleep disturbances and digestive problems, which could result in more serious conditions, if left ignored.

The symptoms of adrenal fatigue are said to include:

  • tiredness.
  • trouble getting to sleep and waking up.
  • craving salt and sugar.
  • unexplained weight loss.
  • reliance on stimulants such as caffeine.
  • nonspecific digestive problems.
  • chronic and unresolved inflammation and pain in the joints

Global Health Crises Trigger Stress

Over the past 150 years, science has seen evidence that global health crises, such as the AIDS pandemic, SARS, and the recent massive outbreak that led to the Covid-19 (novel coronavirus) pandemic, play a role in triggering elevated stress levels and adrenal fatigue.

People worried about the possibility of exposure, or about the health and welfare of their loved ones, neighbours and communities at-large can become susceptible to mood and sleep changes, digestive and appetite problems, and a feeling of overall malaise or anxiety. These are natural responses to an elevation of cortisol in the body.

Taking a Holistic Approach

Other factors, including financial stress, relationship concerns, political tension and community unrest can contribute to elevations of cortisol as well, and over time, can result in adrenal fatigue.

For this reason, if you are experiencing increased neck pain, back pain, or overall body aches, it can be useful to consider taking a more holistic approach. This may include working with a movement specialist, such as The Knee Pain Guru, an osteopath, sports fitness professionals and an holistic doctor to help modulate cortisol levels and address the cause of inflammation from a DNA-focused, functional foods approach.

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