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How does Stress make pain worse or even cause it?

Certain things happen when you are stressed or feeling overwhelmed. Your breathing instantly changes (you may not even notice) and this alters your body chemistry in several important ways, such as your body’s pH, a drop in tolerance to pain (5), an increase in muscle tension and stiffness and an increase in hormones that make you less able to cope or adapt.

In up to 85% of A&E admissions for chest pain, no physical reason for the pain can be found (1), and the cause in most cases are feelings of being stressed.

Stress is known to cause migraine and tension headaches (2), and stress related poor breathing patterns are a significant factor in the pain of Fibromyalgia Syndrome and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (3).

Period related pain can also be caused by stress or made worse by it (4).


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1. 1998 J Clin Psychiatry. 59 (Suppl 20):15-21)

W. Katon W, E. Walker

2. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain

J. Holm et al.

Volume 37, Issue 9, pages 553–558, October, 1997

3. Patterns of hypocapnia in patients with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome.

J. Naschitz et al

American Journal of Medical Science 331 (6), 295-303) 2006

4. Symptoms of premenstrual syndrome may be caused by hyperventilation

H. Ott H et al

Fertility and Sterility 86(4):1001e17-19) 2006

5. J. Med Hypotheses. 63:118–123) 2004

S. Gummels, E Adams



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