Does stress affect injury recovery?

Stress is very common, and is often a way people respond to differing life situations and problems.

What people often don’t realize is that stress can affect not only mental health but also our physical health.

There are numerous conditions that are linked with high stress levels, including cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases (Guo & DiPietro, 2010).

Interestingly, stress has also been linked to poor wound and tissue healing (Guo & DiPietro, 2010; Vileikyte, 2007).

Stress has been shown to deregulate the immune system, with increased brain (hypothalamus) and nervous system (autonomic nervous system) activity key role-players.

Stress causes increased activity of adrenal and pituitary glands, leading to the release of hormones such as cortisol, prolactin and catecholamines.

Studies have shown these hormone changes increase our blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels, which can affect the healing process.

Changes also occur to the chemicals around an injury site due to stress, leading to impaired immune function and delayed healing (Godbout & Glaser, 2006; Ross & Thomas, 2010).

The psychological impact of stress can impact emotional states, leading to behaviours that negatively influence immune function; particularly affecting sleep, nutrition and exercise (Guo & DiPietro, 2010).

All of these factors lead to poorer immune response and healing, thus delaying recovery.

Why is this important?

The evidence detailed above shows that stress will negatively impact on injury recovery, for example, delaying healing of a muscle tear.

Therefore, it would make sense to utilize methods of reducing stress to help improve.

This becomes a factor for individuals at all levels of sport and activity, with stress reduction an added way to further optimise recovery.

How can we reduce stress levels?