Pain is more than just a physical sensation. Recurring or chronic pain can impact your quality of life in many ways and learning to live with that pain can be a long and difficult process.
You can help deal with the physical toll of chronic pain with a range of therapies, including BioWaveGO, but dealing with chronic pain on a daily basis can also take its toll on your mental health. So, how does chronic pain affect our brain and what can we do to deal with it?
How does chronic pain affect the brain?
As well as causing immediate distress and discomfort, studies have shown that chronic pain can have long-term psychological effects on the brain. One study found that patients who suffered long-term chronic pain had “significantly reduced grey matter”1. This part of the brain is responsible for a variety of different brain functions including sensory, perception and muscle movement. This reduction in grey matter has a similar effect on the brain as 10-20 years of ageing.
Does chronic pain affect memory?
One of the other things that grey matter in the brain is used for is memory. So, it’s very possible that long-term chronic pain can affect the memory of those who suffer from it. A study from 2018, revealed that chronic pain can indeed impact both working memory and long-term memory recollection.2
Can chronic pain cause PTSD?
PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a psychological condition that is caused by extreme trauma. It can cause a range of distressing symptoms such as flashbacks and severe anxiety. The connection between chronic pain and PTSD isn’t straightforward as there are many factors involved, but one study found that 80% of those with PTSD also suffered from chronic pain.3
Chronic pain and depression
Like PTSD, there have been many studies into the relationship between chronic pain and depression. Dealing with chronic pain every day is tough and someone who may otherwise have not suffered from depression or other mental health issues can easily start to see symptoms such as hopelessness, low mood and not enjoying things they have previously. Clinical studies have shown that 85% of people with chronic pain suffer from severe depression4, although as with other studies, the direct link is not yet entirely clear.
How to cope with chronic pain
If you are suffering from chronic pain, then you should immediately seek assistance from a medical professional. They will be able to assess the best course of action based on any physical and mental symptoms of your condition. To help cope with chronic pain, some of the options recommended by professionals will include:
Cognitive behavioural therapy
CBT can help you develop coping mechanisms to manage your pain and deal with any symptoms. It is commonly offered by the NHS to deal with a range of disorders and conditions, including pain management.
More traditional talking therapy may also be recommended to help you deal with any underlying mental health conditions exacerbated by your pain. Talk therapy may be offered by the NHS or by a private practice.
Regular physical exercise is recommended for most people with chronic pain symptoms. While you may not feel up to it after an injury, appropriate exercise that won’t further aggravate a condition can help keep your strength up and give you something else to focus on.
Alternative therapies such as meditation and mindfulness may be recommended by mental health professionals. Mindfulness in particular can help us to become more aware of our bodies, to sit more comfortably with pain and to reduce the distress caused by it.