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Does Stress Cause Pain?

Updated: May 10, 2022

The most common complaint from anyone coming in for PT is usually pain of some sort. Sometimes we treat just weakness, or just balance, or just dizziness, etc. But most often, we are working with people who just don’t want to be in pain anymore and who want to do what they want to without pain. If you are someone living with pain, you may or may not have already found this connection, but stress aggravates pain levels. There is pain science that describes this, neuroscience that explores it, plus anecdotally in the clinic we see it all the time.

What does stress do to increase pain levels? Stress is processed in the brain, part of your network of nerves and the control center for hormone release, muscle tension and relaxation, and so much more. When you’re stressed, your muscles tense, your shoulders slowly ride up to your ears, your back gets stiff, your jaw clenches, you get headaches, and you generally feel tight all over. Sound familiar? There is a lot more science behind this to describe why this all happens, but this is just a summary of many of the usual negative side-effects of stress.

So, it’s not all in my head?

NO. Stress is a known factor contributing to pain, especially when it comes to neck, back, shoulder, or head pain, though it may exacerbate pain anywhere in the body.

So what do I do about it?

Some of the best ways to combat stress include exercise, meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, and self-care. You should take time for yourself each day to rest, relax, go for a walk, go to the gym, stretch, and get a chance to breathe. Also, just be mindful of your mental and physical state throughout the day. Check in with yourself. Do you feel your neck and shoulders tensing up? Take a minute to do some deep breathing or go for a 5-minute walk outside. Do you feel your heartrate up when you’re just sitting? Do some stretching, yoga, or meditation to relax. Try to prioritize your life and make some time for yourself. Be cognizant of your mindset. Are you getting stressed over things that you shouldn’t be? Do you find yourself feeling stressed more often than calm?

Mindfulness and awareness of the issue are the first steps toward stress management. So today go ahead and check in with yourself every hour. How many times do you catch yourself feeling more stressed than you think you should? If it’s almost every time, it’s time to rethink some things in your life and taking a healthy approach toward managing your stress! If you are totally unfamiliar with breathing exercises, stretching, or yoga, a Physical Therapist can be a great resource in getting you started on the right track toward a more calm, relaxed mind and body.

In good health,

Dr. Ashley Bertorelli, PT and Founder of The Green Room Physical Therapy


Clifton Park & Troy

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