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How Pain Affects the Brain

Feb 11, 2020 | Texas Partners Healthcare Group

Pain Not Only Impacts Your Body But Also Your Mind

Chronic pain affects millions of people worldwide every single year. When you are facing pain daily, it can be difficult to enjoy other aspects of your life, like your career and loved ones. With a reported 20 percent of the population living with chronic pain, it is clear millions are seeking answers. As anyone who has ever experienced persistent pain knows, the physical side effects can range from mild to intense. But we also know that long-lasting pain can impact the brain and our cognitive health.

Research shows that chronic pain causes changes in brain activity that differ from acute pain. When the body experiences long-term pain, it changes the central nervous system (CNS), which impacts a person’s sensory, emotional, and modular circuits. For this reason, chronic pain is considered a neurological disorder by many experts. People who suffer from this type of pain are more susceptible to anxiety, depression, and other mental disorders.

The purpose of today’s article is to take a closer look at how pain – specifically chronic pain – changes the brain. We hope that by learning more about how it affects our mood, sleep habits, memory, relationships, and overall wellness, we can find the right tools to get better. The Texas Partners Healthcare Group team is dedicated to helping clients of all ages come up with a pain management plan that addresses your specific needs. As a regenerative medicine clinic, we offer alternative therapies and services that give you control of your symptoms. By taking a whole-body approach to healing, we have helped thousands recover from a wide range of debilitating conditions, including sciatica, a slipped or herniated disc, SI joint pain, and arthritis. Today, we are going to gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between the brain and pain.

What Causes Chronic Pain?

Pain occurs for many different reasons, from trauma following a car accident to disease or some other type of injury. Often, this pain is acute and goes away in a few weeks or months. But for others, the pain is nagging and just won’t go away. This is chronic pain, which is very different from typical pain. Some of the most common causes of chronic pain include:

Worldwide, an estimated 1.5 billion people are living with chronic pain. If that’s you, give Texas Partners Healthcare Group a call today to discuss your options. You don’t have to suffer; there are plenty of options, many of which you may not have tried before. From changing your diet to finally taking that yoga class, certain lifestyle choices may be the answer. Furthermore, by understanding how pain affects the brain, you will be able to take control.

What is considered chronic pain? 

Chronic pain is an ongoing pain that lasts for more than six months. With this type of pain, the symptoms can remain long after the injury or illness has healed. This is because pain signals are still active in the brain and nervous system.

How Your Brain Processes Pain

We know that chronic pain is more than annoying; it can dramatically reduce a person’s quality of life. With so many people suffering, it is no wonder pharmaceutical companies ramped up the production of opioids in the 1990s. Today, the United States is experiencing a tragic opioid epidemic that claims the lives of 130 people every single day. It is estimated that nearly two million Americans were diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder in 2017 alone as a result of taking prescription pain drugs. These medications can be harmful for many reasons, and they can have a devastating effect on the brain.

Over the last several decades, researchers have discovered that chronic pain may be more impactful to the brain than previously thought. Studies have shown that chronic pain affects the sensory system, which controls the emotional and cognitive parts of the brain.

Let’s look at a few specific ways pain and, in turn, the brain can interfere with a person’s life:

Pain and Mood

We now know pain can send different signals to the brain, leading to changes to the emotional system, for one. Because of this, chronic pain sufferers are at an increased risk of mood disorders as well as anxiety, depression, anger, fear, and irritability. Mood disorders like these can cause a person to turn to pain medications, such as the addictive opioids mentioned earlier. The good news? Research shows meditation, yoga, physical therapy, stem cell therapy, and other alternative treatments are safer and more effective in treating mood disorders related to chronic pain.

Pain and Sleep

Chronic pain doesn’t just affect your mood, but it can disrupt your sleep. Sure, you may have a difficult time sleeping because you are in physical discomfort, but pain also changes the brain’s relationship with sleep. The National Sleep Foundation found that 21 percent of adults in the U.S. experience pain, leading to a 42-minute sleep deficiency every night.

Pain and Memory

Not only can pain change an individual’s physical, mental, and emotional states, but it may also affect memory. Neuroimages show chronic pain can interfere with both short- and long-term memory, as well as a person’s ability to concentrate and pay attention.

“It’s all in your head” should now hold a different meaning for those living with chronic pain. The pain is, of course, real, there is no doubt about that, but there is evidence that it is made worse because of disrupted brain activity. People with chronic pain often have a laundry list of symptoms, and it may just seem like one thing after another goes wrong. This can be difficult to understand, but new research and studies connecting pain to the brain certainly provide hope and an explanation. If you are living with chronic pain and it seems nothing has helped, contact Texas Partners Healthcare Group today. As the premier pain management clinic in Frisco, we will get the bottom of what is going on and do everything we can to restore your quality of life.