Stress-Induced Arthritis Flare-Ups: Why This Happens & What to Do

Anju Mobin - Writer for Trim Down Club
By Anju Mobin
Nevena Radulović - Editor for Trim Down Club
Edited by Nevena Radulović

Published January 10, 2023.

A stressed woman sitting in the office holding her neck suggesting pain

Everyone gets stressed once in a while. Job-related challenges, arguing with your spouse, friend, or boss, health issues of self and family members, or even something simple like what to make for dinner—almost anything can trigger stress.

However, too much stress can be harmful, as chronic stress takes a toll on your health, especially if you have a pre-existing condition like arthritis. When you're stressed, your muscles become tense and painful, limiting your mobility and even your ability to complete daily tasks.

An arthritis flare-up is a period of increased disease activity or worsening symptoms. Stress can induce arthritis flare-ups, as it causes the body to release chemicals that trigger inflammation and pain.

Here's more about stress-induced arthritis flare-ups and what to do about them.

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Causes of Stress-Induced Arthritis Flare-Ups

Arthritis is caused by chronic inflammation in your joints that causes pain and damage to joints and bones, and it can happen even in your 20s. Different arthritis types like osteoarthritis can also cause spinal muscle spasms and even lead to immobility. Stress can cause arthritis to flare up, worsening an already difficult medical condition.

Here are some causes of stress-induced arthritis flare-ups:

  • Stress causes muscle tension and increases joint pain: Muscles can tense up as a reflex to stress as your body’s way of guarding against serious injury or pain, which is why taking muscle relaxers sometimes helps. However, chronic stress doesn’t allow the muscles to relax, resulting in arthritis flare-ups.
  • Stress releases chemicals that trigger inflammation: Arthritis is a pathological change in the lining of joints, causing them to be swollen and inflamed with varying degrees of severity. Stress releases pro-inflammatory cytokine, a chemical that increases inflammation and attacks the joint tissues further. Nerves in the joints get activated, causing arthritis complications and more pain.
  • Dealing with chronic diseases such as arthritis is stress-inducing: The daily management of arthritis symptoms can also contribute to stress, resulting in pain, fatigue, and insomnia that add to the stress you're already under.

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Although arthritis flare-ups can completely alter your daily activities, painkillers such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs can help you to a certain extent.

However, there are other methods to reduce arthritis symptoms naturally, including the following:

  • Exercise: Choose an exercise that's easy on your joints and can help release built-up tension. Walking, cycling, swimming, and aerobics are all good options, and you can start doing 10 minutes at a time and gradually increase.
  • Stress management: Meditation, deep breathing, and alternative relaxation techniques such as listening to soothing music are some simple techniques to manage stress. You can listen to music while exercising too. What's more, just getting out of the house/office and going outdoors can be stress-relieving. You should also make sure to get enough sleep.
  • Diet: Research shows that dietary interventions such as avoiding certain food groups can reduce arthritis pain and swelling.

Some foods to avoid if you're prone to stress-induced flare-ups include:

  • Excess sugar and sweets – These cause the body to produce more cytokines, which are inflammatory in nature.
  • Fatty foods – Foods with high amounts of saturated fat trigger inflammation, worsening arthritis symptoms.
  • Refined carbs – As these convert into sugar very fast, they cause the same inflammatory response as sugar and sweets.
  • Tobacco – As it also releases pro-inflammatory cytokines, it worsens arthritis inflammation.
  • Alcohol – As it depletes your body of water and nutrients, it increases inflammation and affects the immune function, inhibiting normal joint healing.

Instead, eat foods that will help you prevent arthritis flare-ups, such as:

  • Fatty fish: They contain omega-3 fatty acids associated with lower levels of inflammation and assist in joint lubrication.
  • Nuts: These have high amounts of fiber, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and vitamin E, in addition to omega-3 fatty acids that have strong anti-inflammatory effects.
  • Olive oil: It contains a natural compound called oleocanthal, which can prevent arthritis-related inflammation.
  • Green leafy vegetables: Foods like spinach, collards, and kale are high in natural antioxidants and polyphenols, which are associated with reduced inflammation.

» Food plays a part in winter flare-ups too. See natural arthritis pain remedies for winters

Manage Stress-Induced Arthritis Flare-Ups With the Right Help

Although stress is a natural response of your body, chronic stress is harmful and can induce arthritis flare-ups. So, it's important to reduce and manage your stress levels. If your flare-ups are frequent and severe, make sure to consult a doctor and explain when your symptoms occur, how long they last, and where the pain is.

However, some lifestyle changes to create healthy and sustainable habits can make a difference. Regular exercise, a nutrient-rich diet including an effective supplement like Heal-n-Soothe, and stress management techniques can help reduce the frequency and intensity of stress-induced arthritis flare-ups.

» Reduce the symptoms of stress-induced arthritis flare-ups by avoiding the wrong foods