Having chronic pain is like living your life on a roller coaster; there are up days and down days and sometimes you’re just trying to hang on. You never know what’s around the next corner, so you learn to take most things in stride – but some of the side effects of chronic pain are actually rather bizarre.

Why do I sweat when I’m in pain?

Lately many of my clients have been asking me “Why do I break out in a sweat when I’m in pain?” Like a lot of side effects of chronic pain, I thought that I was the only one who felt this phenomenon – but apparently there are many people who have this same symptom.

hans-reniers-743407-unsplashExcessive sweating (technically called hyperhidrosis) due to pain can have many causes but it boils down to your nervous system. Your nervous system has two components: the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system (all your nerves).

The peripheral nervous system is divided into 3 subsystems – the somatic, autonomic, and enteric nervous systems. It’s the autonomic subsystem that makes us sweat.

Your autonomic nervous system (ANS) regulates body functions such as heart rate, digestion, breathing, sweating, urination, sexual arousal, and pupil response.

So why do you sweat when you’re in pain? Your nerves (that are sending the signal that you’re in pain) send the “I’m in pain” message to the systems that are controlled by your ANS.

These systems – heart, digestion, breathing, sweating – receive the “I’m in pain” message and they react appropriately – and you start sweating. You may notice that you sweat all over or just in certain places like your armpits or even your head.

Many times, the sweating comes on suddenly whether you’re sitting still or moving. You feel embarrassed and out of control. You wonder what people think about you when you break out into a sweat and you wonder if there is anything you can do to stop this. Thankfully, there are ways to manage this!

In my case, my head will breakout into a sweat and then it would drip into my eyes. I could feel the top of my starting to get very warm and then the sweating would start. I can’t put antiperspirant on my head, so I had to figure out a way to stop this.

One thing that I found that worked is deep breathing. Deep breathing is a great, natural way to slow your heart-rate and calm your nerves. This will prevent your body from heating up and sweating.

One simple deep breathing technique is to sit in a chair with your arms at your sides. Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose, hold for 3 or 4 seconds, and then breath out through your mouth. You should repeat this several times until you feel yourself start to relax.

Another option to manage pain induced sweating is to find a quiet place. Sometimes just getting away from all the noises around you can help calm your nerves. Stimuli, such as people talking and noises from a t.v. or radio can make your nerves over react and this can lead to sweating.

If your excess sweating only occurs in your armpits, there are several different antiperspirant/deodorant combination products that you can buy. Be sure to read the label and make sure it says antiperspirant. The International Hyperhidrosis Society recommends Certain Dri, Secret Clinical Strength, and Gillette Clinical Strength.

There are also prescription medications that you can take if the sweating is intolerable. I always recommend that you talk to your healthcare provider about your pain and any side effects that you may also be experiencing.

It’s not just you. It happens to many chronic pain sufferers and there are ways to manage this.

Until next time ~ Dr. JB Kirby