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Understanding Chronic Pain: Its Impact on Brain and Body

Chronic Pain

Pain is not just a feeling of discomfort; it can affect your overall well-being. Sometimes, it can lead to serious mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. Therefore, the amount of pain you feel tells a lot about your health. While acute pain is sudden and protective, chronic pain is ongoing and can last for three months or longer. Our bodies are not designed to bear pain for a prolonged period, and chronic pain lasting longer than three months can take a toll on both the brain and body. This makes it necessary to consult with a specialist for pain management as soon as severe pain is experienced.

According to recent reports by Statista, over 34% of adults aged 85 years and 27% of adults aged 45 to 64 years in the United States suffer from chronic pain. The mental and emotional strain this causes raises an important question: How does chronic pain impact the brain and body?

Types of Pain
There are two basic types of pain: acute pain and chronic pain.

Acute Pain
Acute pain usually starts suddenly, has a clear cause, and can be treated effectively. It often comes from an injury or damage to body tissue that isn’t part of the nervous system. This type of pain is usually focused in one area and is known for its strong intensity. Examples of acute nociceptive pain include:

  • Cuts
  • Bruises
  • Burns
  • Pulled muscles
  • Broken bones
  • Labor and childbirth
  • Pain during surgical recovery

Inflammatory pain is another type of nociceptive pain. It appears as increased sensitivity in the damaged tissue, showing signs like tenderness, swelling, redness, or heat. If the inflammation lasts between 2-6 weeks, it’s known as subacute inflammation. Without proper treatment, some acute pain can turn into chronic pain over time. Therefore, a thorough assessment is essential for identifying the pain source early and creating an effective treatment plan.

Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is any persistent pain that lasts for more than three months. The intensity and symptoms can vary, but if the pain is present most days or every day during this period, it is considered chronic. When this pain interferes with daily activities and work, it is classified as high-impact chronic pain (HICP). Chronic pain can vary greatly between patients and often doesn’t have an obvious cause. It usually involves central sensitization, which increases the patient’s sensitivity to pain.

How Chronic Pain Affects Brain and Body

Chronic pain management can help you understand the causes behind it. Experienced pain management specialists work closely with patients to understand the pain and its relation to the brain, ultimately providing a tailor-made treatment plan according to specific requirements.

Impacts on the Mind

  1. Low Mood, Anxiety, and Depression: Being diagnosed with chronic pain and knowing that it may last for months can be difficult. Some people may not be able to work or engage in activities they used to enjoy, impacting their mood. Additionally, not being able to work can lead to financial worries, stress, and anxiety.
  2. Changes in Brain Structure: Chronic pain can lead to changes in brain structure, including a reduction in gray matter volume in areas responsible for pain processing, emotion regulation, and cognition. This means patients with chronic pain can face problems related to memory processing, concentration, learning new things, and thinking capabilities.
  3. Altered Brain Function: Our brains are neuroplastic, meaning they change by learning from the environment and our experiences. Therefore, when experiencing chronic pain, the neural pathways in the brain and the processing of the nervous system change, becoming more sensitive and reactive.
  4. Memory and Attention Issues: Persistent pain can impair cognitive functions, leading to difficulties with memory, attention, and decision-making.

Impacts on the Body

  1. Sleep Disturbance: Good sleep is essential for overall well-being. During sleep, the body reenergizes, allowing the mind to work effectively during waking hours. However, chronic pain frequently interferes with sleep, leading to insomnia. Patients with chronic pain often struggle with poor sleep quality and daytime fatigue, which can further exacerbate pain and reduce the ability to cope with it.
  2. Hormonal Changes: Chronic pain affects the endocrine system, which controls hormones in the bloodstream. Hormones regulate many important functions in the body, such as metabolism, sexual function, growth, development, sleep, mood, and how tissues work. When the endocrine system is out of balance, it can cause problems for both the mind and body.
  3. Weight Gain: Hormonal changes impact weight, and the deconditioning and lack of functioning associated with chronic pain can also lead to obesity. Being overweight puts extra pressure on the joints, increasing pain and reducing mobility. Moreover, obesity puts extra strain on the heart, lungs, and other body systems because the body isn’t built to handle the demands of being overweight.

In Conclusion, Remember – There is Hope
Chronic pain is a serious health issue. However, it is important not to panic and to consult with a reputable pain management specialist. They will diagnose and provide a custom treatment plan to help you recover faster. Your specialist will work with you closely to find the best treatment method for you. While chronic pain can impact the brain and body, treatments and therapies can address these issues. Additionally, practices like yoga, exercise, and massage can improve your quality of life without causing side effects during the treatment process.

If you or someone you love is facing chronic pain issues, contact experienced specialists. At Nova Spine & Pain Care, we have a team of spine and pain management specialists dedicated to helping patients recover faster and providing personalized care and pain management plans in various locations like Canton, Alpharetta, Woodstock, Marietta, Sandy Springs, Jasper, Blue Ridge, Roswell, and Milton. Contact us now. The sooner you start the treatment, the better you can handle the symptoms.


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