Pain is a tool your body uses to protect itself. For example, when you touch something hot or step on something sharp, you need to know immediately that your body is in danger to avoid the threat. The pain response helps you understand what’s going on with your body, internally and externally, and is necessary for survival.
But, your body is not meant to hold on to pain for long periods. Chronic pain, which lasts three months or longer, puts too much physical and mental strain on the body, leading to other health problems that are difficult to course-correct.
If you are living with chronic pain and notice other symptoms interrupting your lifestyle, it may be time to talk to a doctor. They can help you treat not only your chronic pain but the other medical conditions associated with chronic pain that can take over your life.
Changes in the brain
Your brain is not meant to handle pain all day. When it does, it takes away the processing power from other brain areas to compensate and can change the structure of grey matter. Studies show that chronic pain patients can lose up to 11% of grey matter (areas of the brain that control learning, attention, memory processing, and motor control) as opposed to those without chronic pain. The more prolonged chronic pain persists, the more grey matter is altered. This is why chronic pain patients have memory loss, attention, problem-solving, and motor control issues, even in areas unaffected by the pain.
Mood changes and disorders
It comes as no surprise that being in constant pain can cause changes in your mood and overall quality of life. However, these mood changes can lead to long-term mental issues such as depression and anxiety if not treated. Depression is more than just the blues – it can cause you to lose motivation, stop socializing due to fear avoidance of your pain, and can cause you to lose hope that your pain will ever get better. Many chronic pain patients also develop anxiety surrounding pain triggers and the thought of pain worsening over time. However, we urge patients to remember that “chronic” does not mean permanent – with treatment comes hope for a pain-free future.
Changes in one’s physical pain response
When the body is exposed to pain, you may think it will eventually become used to it. However, chronic pain can cause your receptors to become more sensitive and produce pain entirely separate from its initial medical cause. Patients may experience discomfort when touching, showering, or resting, which is often the case for fibromyalgia.
If you’ve ever had a bad stomach ache or been extremely sore after excess physical activity, you know how difficult it can be to sleep while in pain. Insomnia is one of the most common complications of chronic pain, with over 50% of patients experiencing it at some point. In addition, insomnia causes other problems such as fatigue, mood disorders, and trouble with concentration and memory and can exacerbate the pain that’s already driving the sleep disturbance.
Hormonal changes and interference with sexual function
Chronic pain causes a lot of stress in the lives of sufferers, which often contributes to hormonal changes. Imbalances of cortisol, adrenalin, serotonin, and testosterone can all occur due to t chronic pain and have detrimental effects on your life.
A rise in cortisol and adrenaline is typical in chronic pain patients due to the high levels of stress their bodies are under. These hormones signal the body to go alert, which means your heart rate and blood pressure can go up. They also signal to the body to preserve physical and mental resources, which can lead to weight gain, problems with attention and learning, and a lowered immune system.
Low serotonin levels cause various brain issues, but the most noticeable are changes in mood. Lower serotonin levels can make it difficult to concentrate, contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression, and make daily functioning more complicated than those without chronic pain.
Testosterone, found in both men and women, can also come out of balance in our bodies when experiencing chronic pain. This contributes to symptoms such as hot flashes, lower muscle mass, and lower sex drive. Coupled with fear-avoidance of movement, mood disorders, and social withdrawal, lower sex drive and trouble with emotional intimacy are very common in chronic pain patients.
What You Can Do
These long-term effects of chronic pain can be detrimental to your physical and mental well-being, but they are not permanent. Chronic pain does not mean lifelong pain; at PPOA, we strive to provide long-lasting relief to those in pain.
To learn more about your treatment options for chronic pain and its other symptoms, contact your local PPOA clinic today.