Could stress and low mood be causing your joint pain?
There are a number of reasons that we experience joint pain, and, unfortunately, they sometimes aren’t easy to suss out. When it comes to sleep and joint pain a vicious cycle can occur with less sleep causing more pain and more pain causing less sleep. There are a number of ways to begin to tackle joint pain but today I’m taking a look at how our emotions can disrupt our nutrient and hormone levels and contribute to our joint pain
An introduction to your joints
Your joints are extremely complex and there are many components including the ligaments, cartilage and tendons that surround the joint which can be the source of or fall victim to joint pain. A joint is the connection made between two bones in the body and they are designed to allow different types and different ranges of movement. They can be divided functionally depending on the range of movement they allow or structurally depending on what type of material they are made of.
Our bones are at their thickest and strongest in our early adult life and their density increases until your late 20s, then after the age of 35 we begin to lose bone density gradually. This is a completely normal process and happens to us all, although the rate of losing bone density can occur much faster in some people than in others.
This increased sensitivity makes us more vulnerable to fractures, osteoporosis and other injuries. Keeping fit and active and maintaining a healthy balanced diet are among some of the best ways that you can look after your joint and bone health.
Emotions and joint pain
How you feel mentally can impact how you feel physically meaning that emotions such as stress, anxiety and depression could have a negative effect on your joint health. According to the Arthritis Foundation people who tend to be depressed or anxious are more susceptible to pain. What’s more, multiple studies of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and fibromyalgia indicate that those who experience more negative emotions also report more pain. 1 Below I’ve explored the relationships between joint pain and stress, depression, low mood and poor immune function.
Stress affects every area of the body from your sleep, to your digestion, immune function, to your hormones. When it comes to your joints, stress causes your bones to release the minerals they need for bone formation into the bloodstream for the benefit of other tissues.
Your body does this because, when you are stressed, your fight-or-flight response is activated and your repair processes are suppressed. Any expendable nutrients are sent to the essential organs – being the brain, heart and lungs – for quicker decision making and response times to help get you out of danger.
Unfortunately, if you experience chronic stress, your bones are continuously deprived of minerals, which can result in bone loss. The problem is that in modern society stresses crop up in all shapes and sizes and usually they aren’t cause for our stress survival instincts to kick in.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is produced by the adrenal gland and released when you’re under stress. While this may seem like a negative thing, we need cortisol for many other important functions such as breaking down carbohydrates, lipids and proteins.
High amounts of cortisol suppress the body’s repair functions and affect the joints because they choose to spend energy on fight-or-flight functions than in response to inflammation. Inflammation in either the intestinal tract or from inflammatory chemicals circulating throughout the body as a result of poor diet or anti-inflammatory drugs triggers the release of enzymes that damage the joint cartilage, resulting in arthritis. 2
Small amounts of cortisol are necessary for normal bone development, but large amounts block bone growth. The stress hormone indirectly acts on bone by obstructing calcium absorption which inhibits bone cell growth. This causes an increase of bone resorption, and ultimately reduces bone mineral density.
When your cortisol levels are high, your body goes into a state of inflammation where it becomes less able to absorb calcium and there is even a significant increase in excreting calcium. The ability of bones to renew and repair themselves to keep healthy is significantly impaired as a result.
What’s more, chronic stress causes calcium depletion that’s so fast that our diet alone is unable to replace the lost mineral. When our bones are extremely depleted in calcium we are likely to develop porous bones, brittle bones and conditions such as osteoporosis.
Another mineral that is affected by stress is magnesium, also known as the ‘original chill pill’ because of its balancing effect on mood. Similar to calcium, the more stressed you are the greater the loss of magnesium from cells. If you have low magnesium you’re likely to experience symptoms such as muscle cramps, fatigue and mood swings. What’s more low magnesium increases pain receptivity which means that our joint pain will only be aggravated further.
Even although magnesium is readily available to us through our diet, it is still one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in the UK. Supplementing is a great way to support your magnesium levels and, the good news is there are many different forms of supplement that we can use. For muscle and joint pain though, I'd suggest using BetterYou's Magnesium Oil Joint Spray. This spray delivers magnesium directly into the skin where it is readily absorbed and utilised by the body making it the perfect way to combat those achy joints and muscles!
How to protect your joints from stress
Bottom line? Stress causes us to waste our calcium and magnesium like crazy! So what can you do to stop stress from aggravating your joint pain? Ensuring that you have a balanced diet that contains plenty of calcium and finding easy ways to effectively cope with stress will help to prevent stress from causing your joint pain to flare up. According to research, mindfulness can help lower cortisol levels in response to a stressor, as well as lowering indices of anxiety and feelings of negativity. 3
Impaired immune function and inflammation
Inflammatory conditions such as cardiovascular disease and IBD give rise to an increased risk of developing depression. This is particularly the case with long-term conditions such as autoimmune diseases which arise as a result of problems with the immune system. This problem causes immune cells to attack your body by mistaking them as foreign pathogens. Examples of autoimmune disorders include conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or type 1 diabetes.
Stress can impact how our immune system functions - while it can’t directly give us viruses or infections, it can weaken the immune system and leave it more vulnerable.
Zinc is another mineral that we lose more of when we are stressed but it is also plays an important role in inflammatory responses within the body. Zinc affects how the immune system responds to stimulation, especially inflammation.
Research has found that zinc deficiency increases inflammatory responses in cells, causing improper immune cell activation and dysregulation of inflammatory cytokine IL-6. Without zinc the cells that control inflammation appear to activate and respond differently, causing the cells to promote more inflammation. 4 While a little inflammation is good for the body, helping us to repair injuries and get rid of toxins, a lot can be damaging for the body and cause all sorts of side effects – including joint pain!
Depression and low mood
Like stress, depression can exhibit a lot of physical symptoms in the body. On a neurological level physical pain and depression have a deep biological connection; the neurotransmitters that influence both pain and mood are serotonin and norepinephrine. 5 Joint pain is just one of several common physical symptoms people with low mood and depression can experience.
Vitamin D deficiency
Vitamin D deficiency is thought to be one of the contributing factors of Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. Our primary source of vitamin D is sunlight and, this isn’t always plentiful in countries such as the UK. According to research Vitamin D could be an important part of treatment of SAD although further studies are needed to confirm this. 6
Vitamin D has been shown regulate production of serotonin and dopamine, which is why it is thought to create moderate but statistically significant effects on depressive symptoms. In relation to our joints, vitamin D has shown the ability to be able to increase levels of anti-inflammatory cytokines as well as reduce pro-inflammatory cytokines.
Low mood can sometimes be triggered by lower oestrogen levels which, in turn, can affect tissue elasticity. Why does this happen? Oestrogen stimulates serotonin, which, as we already know, is a neurotransmitter that is thought to play an important part in making us feel good.
Declining oestrogen levels are therefore linked to declining levels of serotonin which can result in us feeling low in mood and could even trigger symptoms of depression. Fluctuating levels of oestrogen are most commonly found in women experiencing PMS or during the menopause where levels of oestrogen drop (sorry ladies!).
According to the NHS, women are more at risk of developing osteoporosis than men because these hormonal changes (particularly in the menopause) directly affect bone density. In men usually the cause of osteoporosis is unknown however there is thought to be a link between low levels of testosterone and a higher risk of osteoporosis.7
Sleep and joint pain
Studies have shown that poor or insufficient sleep is linked to higher levels of inflammation in the body, and we know what that means – higher levels of pain in the body! Between 11pm and 3am is the key time for deep sleep, this is when repair work is carried out. If we go to sleep too late we can skip this essential repair stage and will miss out on some much needed rejuvenation and healing. As we now know stress can aggravate our joint pain, but it can also disrupt our sleep and prevent us from getting to sleep at night and therefore contribute to the vicious cycle.
What can I do if my emotions are to blame for my joint pain?
There are a number of simple ways that you can look after your bone health to help prevent joint pain:
- Our product recommendation: If you feel like you need a helping hand to manage your stress, you could try A.Vogel's Dormeasan. This product contains Valerian which is thought to help regulate nerve cells and have a calming effect on the body. Dormeasan can be used as a stress reliever as well as a natural sleep aid, although we don't want you feeling sleeping during the day so we'd recommend taking between 10-20 drops to relieve stress and, when you are ready to settle down for the night, increase this to 30 drops half an hour before bed time to help you drift off to a natural sleep.
- Our diet really is important when it comes to our joints because what we eat can impact how our joints feel – some foods can help our joint pain whilst others can hurt our joint pain. Ensure that you have a healthy balanced diet including the following nutrients; magnesium, calcium, vitamin D and zinc.
- Relaxing in a bath with Epsom salts is another great way to soothe muscles and it can also do wonders to soothe the mind too! Soaking in a warm bath helps to loosen stiff muscles and the Epsom salts are broken down into sulphate and magensium which, we already know, are important for supporting our muscles and joints.
- Finally, topical pain relief gels such as Atrogel are perfect for helping to relieve muscle and joint pain. Containing fresh extracts of Arnica flowers, Atrogel aims to naturally soothe inflammation and can even be used alongside other pain killers.
We have have made the product suggestions in this blog just for you to help you to combat those uncomfortable aches and pains interfering with your sleep, all of our suggestions are made specifically with your sleep problem in mind!
3 Brown KW et al. Psychoneuroendocrinology 2012; 37 (12): 2037-41
4 Wong, Carmen P et al. Zinc deficiency enhanced inflammatory response by increasing immune cell activation and inducing IL6 promoter demethylation. Molecular Nutrition and Food Research. Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201400761