Updated February 2019.
Is there a connection between anger and chronic pain? Yes, there could be.
While anger may not cause your pain, research shows that your emotions can affect how you experience pain. Anger can increase sensitivity and muscle tension, increasing pain. Anger turned inward may lead to depression.
“Anger is associated with pain intensity in many chronic pain conditions, including headache, fibromyalgia, complex regional pain syndrome, and back pain,” the study authors write. “Higher anger expression is prospectively associated with poorer functional outcomes such as physical performance deficits and work disability… There is likewise a well-documented relationship between anger, anxiety, and depression.”
In pointing out this connection between anger, stress, anxiety and pain, we are not saying “it is all in your head,” something most people with chronic pain have been told at some point during their health care journey.
But it is something of which to be mindful as you navigate the legal system and seek treatment and compensation for your pain and injuries.
Certainly, letting go of anger won’t make your pain disappear when you’re dealing with fibromyalgia, back injuries, or other painful medical conditions. But anger management strategies, a change in mindset, and techniques like meditation, mindfulness and cognitive behavior therapy may help you manage your pain better and have a positive impact on your quality of life.
“Stress and pain are inevitable parts of life,” writes Dr. Beth Darnell, a Stanford pain scientist and advocate for patient-centered pain treatment and research.
“As many as 1 in 3 individuals lives with ongoing pain, and everyone is likely to experience it at some point in their life. While you cannot always control what happens to you, you can control how you respond to it. In the face of stress and pain, how you respond will determine the course of both,” Dr. Darnell writes on her blog. “Humans are hardwired to focus attention on pain and to want to escape it. Neuroimaging research and other studies show that focusing attention on pain unwittingly feeds the fire. Worse, not being able to escape pain naturally causes further stress, thereby further stoking the flames.”
Dr. David Hanscom, an orthopedic spine surgeon and an expert in teaching people to manage their chronic pain, explores how anger at the workers’ comp system and anger, in general, can contribute to chronic pain.
The points he makes about anger and frustration about the workers’ comp system impacting an injured person’s recovery and ongoing pain are quite valid.
We’ve seen time and time again how being mired in the workers’ comp or Social Security Disability bureaucracy and fighting what can sometimes seem a losing battle can impact our clients’ health. That’s one of the reasons we take a “whole person” approach when dealing with clients.
Another valid point Dr. Hanscom makes is that anger traps workers so that they cannot fully engage in their care and deprives them of the motivation or ability to even care or engage in the process. Accordingly, you can see how this makes it much harder for a worker to feel better and capable of returning to work or even having healthy relationships with family and friends.
If you’re feeling stressed out, anxious, angry or depressed about your workers’ comp, Veterans Disability or Social Security Disability claim and feel like it’s impacting your health, first of all, please know you are not alone; but by all means, let us know. We want to help. You don’t have to deal with these feelings on your own.
Our goal is to make sure our clients receive maximum financial compensation for their injuries, the best medical care possible, the best psychological support and access to other resources that will aid in their recovery and improved well-being.
Talk to your physician about your pain and how it is affecting your emotions. Inquire about alternative treatments, counseling and pain and stress management techniques that might be helpful. Your attorney or paralegal may also be able to help with resources and professional recommendations.