How can stress affect my osteoarthritis?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)

Stress can have a bad affect on your osteoarthritis (OA) in many different ways. Stress can keep you from sleeping well, for example, which can make you feel tired and irritable all the time. This in turn makes you feel the pain in your joints even more. When you're stressed, it's harder to eat healthy and keep your weight down. This could keep you from losing weight, which would help your OA.

Stress can also lead to depression, which definitely makes OA feel worse. A recent study of people with mild to moderate knee OA showed that the ones who were depressed had symptoms that were much worse than would be expected based on x-rays of their knees.

Osteoarthritis causes debilitating pain, stiffness and reduced mobility that can interfere with a person's ability to work and perform activities of daily living. People who have osteoarthritis sometimes feel helpless because of their limitations, which can lead to stress and depression -- both of which can be disabling.

Exercise is not only a good stress reliever, but it can relieve osteoarthritis symptoms, and improve flexibility and mobility. Other good stress-busters are listening to music, watching a funny movie or taking a long soak in the tub.

Stress can affect osteoarthritis. In terms of physical stress, such as running, heavy lifting, repetitive motions, these can worsen osteoarthritis symptoms. The wear and tear on the joints from these motions can place increased pressure on the joints, which can show up as worsening joint pain. Mental and emotional stress can also affect osteoarthritis symptoms. Many people present their mental and emotional stress as actual physical complaints, which can include worsening joint pain associated with osteoarthritis.

Daily stress can worsen the pain of osteoarthritis, so eliminating and avoiding stress is important. Ways to do this include:

  • Get enough sleep.
  • Clean up your calendar to give you more wiggle room in your life.
  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Pace yourself.
If you feel daily stress is taking over your life and these other strategies don't work, ask your doctor how a counselor or prescription medications can help.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.