Can financial stress lead to physical pain in later years?

The current recession has brought back bad memories of ‘the recession we had to have’ in 1990 for some, but it might also be more than just a distant memory.

While people under severe financial distress can experience physical symptoms at the time caused by the stress and worry, a new study has found that the effects of that stress can still cause physical pain up to 30 years later.

The University of Georgia study found that family financial stress in midlife is associated with a depleted sense of control, which is related to increased physical pain in later years.

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Study author Dr Kandauda Wickrama said it was not uncommon for pain to be linked to stressful experiences.

“Physical pain is considered an illness on its own with three major components: biological, psychological and social,” Dr Wickrama said.

“In older adults, it co-occurs with other health problems like limited physical functioning, loneliness and cardiovascular disease.”

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Most pain research is neurological, but it is also important to connect it to stressful family experiences, according to the researchers.

Lead author Catherine Walker O’Neal said the study sought to look at how the environmental situation was able to impact on the physical and mental health of individuals in a family.

“Finances are an important component of our work because it is such a relevant contextual stressor families face,” she said.

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The authors studied 27 years of data on rural families from a cluster of eight counties in the US state of Iowa.

The data was collected in real time from husbands and wives in 500 families who experienced financial problems around 30 years ago, with most of the individuals now over 65 years of age and the couples in enduring marriages, some for as long as 45 years.

Even after the researchers controlled for concurrent physical illnesses, family income and age, they found a connection between family financial hardship in the early 1990s and physical pain nearly three decades later.

Additional findings from their study show it is more likely that financial strain influences physical pain, though physical pain can in turn influence financial strain through additional healthcare costs.

Physical pain is a biopsychosocial phenomenon, according to Dr Wickrama.

The research suggests that stressful experiences like financial strain erode psychological resources such as a sense of control. This depletion of resources activates brain regions that are sensitive to stress, launching pathological, physiological and neurological processes that lead to health conditions such as physical pain, physical limitations, loneliness and cardiovascular disease.

“In their later years, many complain about memory loss, bodily pain and lack of social connections,” Dr Wickrama said.

“Nearly two-thirds of adults complain of some type of bodily pain, and nearly that many complain of loneliness. That percentage is going up, and the health cost for that is going up. That is a public health concern.”

How badly did the recession in the 1990s affect your family? What do you remember from life during that recession? Are you suffering from health problems now? Do you think they could be linked to the financial stress you suffered in 1990?

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Written by Ben Hocking

Ben Hocking is a skilled writer and editor with interests and expertise in politics, government, Centrelink, finance, health, retirement income, superannuation, Wordle and sports.

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