Does Pain Increase Other Sensitivities?

Winter is my worst time of year. My rheumatoid arthritis just doesn’t like it. My joints get cold, stiff, and achy with uncomfortable variations depending on storms and other fluctuations.

As much as I have learned to cope with winter, I’ll never be a fan and I just have to live with it. One strange thing I have noticed is that when I’m achier or flaring, I feel other sensitivities—particularly touch and sound.

I get jumpy! Perhaps it’s the muscle tension that comes with joint pain. But I feel agitated in every sense, like I want to leap out of my skin.

Sometimes I think my RA pain activates all the nerves in my body. Perhaps this is connected with my muscle tension and how even light touches make me jump. My husband will rub my sore joints, which feels good, but too light of a touch and it makes me anxious.

Then there is sound. When I am feeling the pain, loud (or even just moderately loud) sounds bother me. I turn down the TV or even prefer silence to calm my nerves. But if an engine backfires or a loud sound surprises me—the jangle can be painful because I jump and rattle my already aggravated joints.

I realize that senses cannot be elevated by loss. For example, a person who is blind doesn’t hear better than other people. But perhaps there’s something to being attuned or more attentive to pain when feeling extra sensitive?

In any case, I have discovered that I need to pay attention to these times of extra sensitivity. My approach to managing is, first, to take my medications and work on pain control. Less pain helps me to be less jumpy and sensitive.

The next piece is working on managing my stress. It may sound silly, but having a task list and checking off items helps to decrease my stress level. Otherwise, I’m thinking of all the things I should be getting done and feeling accelerating stress levels. I think it may be an imaginary form of control—like if I get these things done I will feel better. Truthfully, it doesn’t help with my physical pain, but does alleviate my emotional worry.

Lastly, I have been trying to practice more regular meditation. I set my timer for 10 minutes and sit it a comfortable position. I breathe and try to discard random thoughts that pop into my head. I try to sit and think about nothing for a brief period of time. My hope is that this practice will help to calm my mind overall so that I don’t feel as hypersensitive to pain or other aggravating sensations.

Chronic pain can be both overwhelming and mysterious. It is not easy to live with or manage. It can threaten to take over every thought or sensation. But I’m a pretty stubborn person and refuse to give in. I want to experience other things and not dwell solely on my pain or present discomfort. I want to be free to have other thoughts.

I have to be honest and know that I will have bad pain days and times when I feel too sensitive to manage much. On these days I need to rest and have some quiet time. But I can also work on managing my pain and sensitivities in the hope that it will make the longer journey just a little bit easier.

Do other people feel hypersensitive when experiencing RA pain? What other ways to manage pain or sensitivity have you discovered? What do you do to manage stress?

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