Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal gland that is released during stressful situations. For that reason, cortisol is often termed “the stress hormone.” Studies have shown that high levels of stress, meaning higher than normal levels of cortisol, are correlated to the perception of pain and the pain thresholds in humans.
During a situation that causes high anxiety, cortisol levels have been found to increase and testosterone levels have been found to decrease. When cortisol increased, study subjects reported a higher perception of pain than before the stressful situation when their cortisol and testosterone levels were normal. Subjects also had lowered pain thresholds, meaning that if an objective tool was used to inflict pain, subjects perceived the same amount of pain earlier than they would under non-stressful conditions.
Many people live in stressful environments, and some of them believe that they thrive on stress. However, high cortisol levels will affect your perception and tolerance of pain, as well as increasing the possibilities of other health problems like diabetes and heart disease. Because these people have cortisol pushed through their bodies throughout the day, they will suffer from tense muscles in the back and shoulders, which can cause pain, poor sleeping habits and higher blood pressure. Reducing that stress is imperative to a healthy lifestyle.
Because there is a positive correlation between cortisol levels and the perception of pain, and a negative correlation between cortisol levels and pain threshold, decreasing everyday stresses can help people to better manage any chronic pain they may have. Relaxation techniques like yoga, hypnosis, meditation, etc. help people to regulate their stress levels. As cortisol levels can be managed by decreasing stress, pain perception is lessened and a higher pain threshold is possible.