Chronic Pain Can Get Into Your Head
So many of my patients come in for help with their chronic pain, pain that they’ve been experiencing for months and even years. When we go over their history, I often find that the impact of chronic pain may not be limited to the pain itself; it could also negatively affect their mental state.
Pain will decrease physical health, decrease emotional functioning, and if left untreated long enough can actually change the brain and mental state in the long term. The good news is that the brain is adaptable, so all changes are not permanent. If we get to the root of the problem - treating chronic pain - we can improve physical health and also start to improve mood and emotional health. Often, as my patients start to feel better physically, they notice improvements in other areas of their lives.
Chronic pain can reduce a person’s quality of life if left untreated. It affects not just a person’s range of motion and physical body, but also their emotional body and mental health. People in chronic pain may:
- Be irritable and impatient
- Feel less motivated to do things
- Limit their social interaction
- Have difficulty concentrating on simple tasks
- Sleep more than average
Chronic pain can alter brain chemistry. People with chronic pain have brains with increased activity in areas that are associated with mood and attention - that is, they are always aware of their pain and it affects their mood constantly. This continuous activity rewires the neurons, making those pain connections stronger, leaving chronic pain sufferers at a greater risk for mental health issues. After enough bouts of recurring chronic pain it can color one’s view of the world. Feelings of frustration and hopelessness from being unable to escape from the pain makes it more difficult to deal with the pain in a healthy way. Symptoms of depression and anxiety are more likely to appear, causing a downward spiral where physical and mental health are negatively affecting one another. It’s best to treat chronic pain early so as to avoid this spiraling path.
Normal brains have an equilibrium - with about the same number of regions turned on and off.) As certain regions are called upon for different tasks, other areas are turned off to maintain this balance. However, since chronic pain sufferers have continuously active areas, their brains are less able to commit to other tasks as well or as quickly. This allocation deficit forces their brains to change on a neural level, causing a decline in their mental state because the brain is working harder and not doing as good of a job at completing the tasks, causing frustration and impatience. Sleep disorders, decreased mental focus, irritability, declining mood, and sometimes even loss of joy and enthusiasm for life are some of the outcomes chronic pain sufferers may experience.
Regarding back pain, changes in sagittal plane alignment (side view) of the spine are correlated to back pain, especially in the lumbopelvic region. In a study by Korovesis et. al., 100 control patients aged 20-70 were compared to 100 chronic low back pain patients at the same age range. The study evaluated the curve in the low back and correlated physical pain to emotional functioning. Subjects filled out questionnaires that showed that the chronic low pain group on a whole suffered more: They had experienced reduced general health, social function, physical health, emotional function, and increased overall pain compared to the control group. When the spine is misaligned, the nervous system is negatively affected by misalignment of the lumbar lordosis, interfering with proper neural communication between the brain and the body and causing dysfunction in the long run. When the nerves cannot work correctly, the person experiences overall dysfunction in their body and this can often lead to disease.
These changes in the brain don’t have to be permanent, however. Our brains are highly adaptable organs, constantly working to maintain a happy balance. If we solve the root of the problem - chronic pain - we can begin to also affect and improve the mental state.
We can reduce chronic back pain through regular chiropractic care. I practice Chiropractic Biophysics (CBP), one of the most researched, scientific, and results-oriented corrective care techniques in the world. To learn more about reducing your chronic pain through regular chiropractic treatment, email us or give us a call at (510) 922-1579.
THINGS WE LOVE:
Chickbean Crisps: These things are delicious, and provide some savory satisfaction without the guilt of regular chips. It comes packed with 4 grams of plant based protein in every serving, too!
Well Fed Weeknights Paleo Cookbook: Good eating habits have never been so simple to implement than this cookbook of quick, easy, and healthy paleo recipes.
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