• March 13, 2024
  • Dr Peter Landsberg

Last updated on February 20, 2024

Arthritis is commonly associated with factors like age, genetics, and lifestyle. However, an emerging area of research is delving into the potential link between stress and arthritis. So, can stress cause or aggravate arthritis? Let’s explore the intricate relationship between stress and arthritis, examining the scientific evidence and shedding light on how learning to reduce stress might impact joint health and arthritis pain.

What is Arthritis?

First, let’s look at the fundamentals of arthritis. Arthritis refers to inflammation of the joints, leading to symptoms such as pain, swelling, stiffness, and decreased joint mobility. The most common types include osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, each with distinct causes and mechanisms.

Osteoarthritis is primarily a result of wear and tear on the joints over time, typically associated with ageing, joint injury, or obesity. Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system mistakenly attacks the lining of the membrane surrounding the joints.

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The Stress-Arthritis Link

While the connection between stress and arthritis is still an area of ongoing research, several plausible mechanisms have been proposed to explain how stress might influence joint health:

  • Inflammatory Response: Stress triggers the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline. Chronic stress can lead to sustained high levels of these hormones, contributing to systemic inflammation, one of the most common arthritis symptoms.
  • Immune System Dysregulation: Stress triggers the immune system’s inflammatory response, potentially disrupting the delicate balance of the immune system, increasing the risk of autoimmune responses against the joints.
  • Behavioural Factors: Individuals experiencing chronic stress may adopt unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as poor dietary habits, lack of exercise, and inadequate sleep – known risk factors for arthritis.

Scientific Evidence on Stress and Arthritis

Some studies suggest a correlation between chronic stress and an increased risk of developing arthritis, particularly rheumatoid arthritis, as it can trigger the immune system’s inflammatory response. However, more research is needed to establish a definitive cause-and-effect relationship.

What is very interesting is that there is a relationship between arthritis symptoms and stress.

  • Stress can worsen some forms of arthritis: Everyday stressors prompt the release of adrenaline and cortisol, which impacts on immune system responses. This may worsen autoimmune conditions like psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Arthritis can increase stress levels: Chronic pain, swelling, and inflammation in arthritis contribute to heightened stress levels, and reduced joint motion leads to anxiety, limiting flexibility, worsening pain, and fostering elevated levels of adrenaline, cortisol, and cytokines.
  • Techniques can reduce stress and arthritis symptoms: Treatment approaches can decrease pain, stiffness, and disability, thereby fostering confidence and resilience. Avoiding fatty foods and incorporating anti-inflammatory options also break the cycle of stress and chronic arthritis pain. Learning to manage stress and mental health supports well-being and helps to reduce stress.

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Managing Stress for Joint Health and Disease Management

Here are some strategies that individuals can adopt to manage stress and potentially promote mental health, disease management, and joint health:

  • Mind-Body Techniques: Practices such as yoga, meditation and deep breathing exercises have been shown to help manage stress levels, boost mental health, relieve symptoms, and promote relaxation.
  • Exercise: Exercise releases endorphins, the body’s natural mood enhancers, and can help manage stress levels and joint pain while promoting joint flexibility and strength.
  • Support: Building a strong support system can provide emotional assistance during challenging times.
  • Healthy Lifestyle: Adopt a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet, adequate sleep, and minimising alcohol and tobacco use.

It’s evident that stress can cause arthritis symptoms to worsen, and learning how to manage stress can help relieve symptoms and contribute to a healthier, more resilient body with less joint pain.

Stress Management and Symptom Relief from Our Arthritis Clinic in Brisbane

At ArthritisCARE, we work with all arthritis patients, from psoriatic arthritis to rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Our experienced and qualified medical professionals are here to assist you, with holistic care programs that include medical treatments as well as support for managing stress. Contact us for more information on our arthritis programs.


Does Stress Cause Arthritis?

The link between stress and arthritis is complex, with research suggesting a potential contribution to certain arthritis types, especially rheumatoid arthritis, as stress can trigger the immune system’s inflammatory response.

How Does Stress Worsen Arthritis Symptoms?

Chronic stress releases inflammatory substances, intensifying joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. Stress management can help relieve symptoms, support mental well-being and pain management.

Can Arthritis Increase Stress Levels?

Arthritis often induces heightened stress due to chronic pain and uncertainties. Recognising this reciprocal relationship is crucial for effective stress management and pain management in arthritis patients.

Which Arthritis Management Techniques Reduce Stress?

Medications, exercise, deep breathing, relaxation techniques and dietary changes alleviate physical symptoms and relieve stress as a comprehensive approach to disease management.

Is There Evidence Linking Stress Reduction to Improved Arthritis Symptoms?

Scientific studies show that relaxation techniques and practices that relieve stress, like yoga, deep breathing and meditation, potentially improve chronic inflammation and arthritis symptoms.

Dr Peter Landsberg

About The Author

Dr Peter Landsberg

Dr Peter Landsberg practices general Rheumatology with a special interest in inflammatory arthritis and connective tissue disorders. His holistic approach to medicine stems from the 12 years he spent as a GP before studying Rheumatology. On weekends you’ll find him trying (not always successfully) to stay upright on his mountain bike as he rides downhill tracks. Or out on Moreton Bay in his well-used tinnie, fishing with his family and the dog!

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