Being in pain is quite uncomfortable for just about everybody. Even minor pain, such as a stubbed toe or a paper cut, is unpleasant, but that pain fades relatively quickly. Imagine being in pain that never fades, or that fades only to come back even stronger a few hours later. This is what people with chronic pain have to deal with, often every day.
Chronic pain, defined as pain lasting for more than 12 weeks, or longer, can lower your lifespan if left untreated. Chronic pain includes a diagnosis such as arthritis, back pain, and recurring migraines, all of which can have a profound effect on a person’s day to day life when left untreated.
People dealing with ongoing or long-term pain can become irritable, short-tempered, and impatient, and with good reason. Constant pain raises the focus threshold for basic functioning, which leaves the pained person with a greatly reduced ability to find solutions or work out even relatively mundane problems. Something like a traffic jam, which most people would be mildly annoyed by but ultimately take in stride, could seriously throw off the rhythm of someone who is putting forth so much effort just to get through the day.
Some recent studies have also shown that chronic pain can actually affect a person’s brain chemistry, and even change the wiring of the nervous system. Cells in the spinal cord and brain of a person with chronic pain, especially in the section of the brain that processes emotion, deteriorate more quickly than normal, causing depression-like symptoms.
It becomes physically more difficult for people with chronic pain to process multiple things at once and react to ongoing changes in their environment, limiting their ability to focus even more. Sleep also becomes difficult, because the section of the brain that regulates the sleep cycle isn’t working properly. This regulator becomes smaller from reacting to the pain, making falling asleep more difficult for people who suffer chronic pain.
In addition to making some symptoms more profound, the change in brain chemistry can create new symptoms, as well. The most pronounced of these are anxiety and depression. After enough recurring pain, the brain rewires itself to anticipate future attacks, which makes patients constantly wary and causes significant anxiety related to pain. Since chronic pain often mimics depression by altering how a person’s brain reacts to discomfort and pain, chronic pain often biologically creates a feeling of hopelessness, which makes it more difficult to process future pain in a healthy way. In fact, roughly one third of patients with chronic pain develop depression at some point during their lifetime.
If you are experiencing chronic pain, it is imperative that you take the pain seriously, and you talk to your doctor about ways to mitigate these factors so that you can live the best possible life.
To learn more about chronic pain and how to cope with it, call Lynx Healthcare at (509) 591-0070 or at (509) 321-4575 to request an appointment.