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Can Stress Increase Joint Pain?

Stress can affect everyone's daily life. Stress impacts both your mental and physical wellbeing. It can affect your ability to perform well in an athletic competition, and impact your career, family life and relationships. Learning how to manage stress at home and on the field can enhance your overall health, while potentially reducing joint pain flare ups.

In the specialty of orthopedic surgery, balancing stress is especially important, as the surgeons’ skill affects patient outcomes. Over the years, I have learned to manage stress as an orthopedic surgeon, to get the best possible outcomes for each patient. Most stress comes from worrying about the past or the future. One of the things that I love about being a surgeon is that it requires being entirely focused on the present, and on the task at hand. There is no room in surgery for the mind to wander and be stressed by regret or anxiety.

It’s no secret that psychological stress can also impact athletic performance. Many of my patients are collegiate and professional athletes who are under tremendous pressure to perform. This stress can also affect their ability to heal and recover from an injury.

There is a direct link between stress and inflammation. Joint pain and sport-related injuries can be aggravated by increased stress levels. The body releases stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline as part of the stress response which can cause muscle tightening and increased pain sensitivity.

These hormones tell our bodies to go into fight-or-flight mode, releasing pro-inflammatory molecules and causing inflammation.3 The body produces cytokine molecules continuously due to long-term stress, resulting in joint swelling and pain.4 If the immune system is activated too long, it can cause chronic inflammation, leading to joint pain and damage.5

Joint pain and discomfort can be incredibly complex. A person's stress and anxiety are affected by nutritional intake, hormones, and their organ function. Research indicates that mindfulness can reduce cortisol levels in response to a stressor, anxiety, and negative emotions.6

Rest, recovery, and relaxation are essential to maintaining overall health. Maintaining a nutritious diet and finding effective ways to cope with stress can prevent joint pain from flare-ups and help athletes perform better in competitions.

Dr. Benjamin Domb, Founder and Medical Director at American Hip Institute, is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in Sports Medicine and Hip Arthroscopy. Dr. Domb is rated amongst the Top Doctors in the USA by the NY Times, US News & World Report, and Castle Connelly.

1. www.texashealth.org/thpg/Our-Services/Joint-Replacement/Why-Younger-Patients-Are-Opting-for-Joint-Replacement#:~:text=Research%20presented%20at%20the%20annual,the%202000%20to%202014%20time

2. https://pagesix.com/2021/01/11/christie-brinkley-66-is-back-in-a-bikini-after-hip-surgery/

3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5476783

4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538239/

5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493173/

6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6085111/

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