Dr Jessica Sammut
Let's Talk About Chronic Pain
Chronic pain affects people in many ways. While almost everyone knows that chronic pain puts tremendous strain on the body, most people don’t realise that it can also affect the mind. In fact, those who suffer from chronic pain can experience anxiety, depression, irritation and exhaustion so great that it can change their personality and cause them to lose sight of who they are and what was once important to them.
Our brain is in control
In a healthy brain, all regions exist in a state of equilibrium. When one region of the brain is active, the others quiet down. However, recent studies have shown that in people with chronic pain, a region of the prefrontal cortex most associated with emotion fails to deactivate when it should.
This failure causes neurons in the brain to deteriorate more quickly than normal, changing the person’s brain chemistry and the wiring of their nervous system in ways that can lead to depression-like symptoms and a lessened ability to focus.
It’s also true that when the brain repeatedly experiences pain over long periods of time, it goes into self-protection mode and rewires itself to anticipate future bouts of pain. This can put chronic pain sufferers in a constant state of wariness and anxiety. From this state, even mild pain sensations can begin to feel agonising.
What happened to all that energy?
There’s no disputing that long-term pain has a profound effect on quality of life. Chronic pain can wear a person down, draining their energy and sapping their motivation. In response, chronic pain sufferers tend to limit their social contact as a way to reduce stress and decrease the amount of energy expended. This can create a passiveness in behaviour and a lack of personal interaction that can lead to loneliness, isolation and depression. Sometimes chronic pain sufferers blame themselves—rather than their condition—for their changing outlook on life, which can compound their isolation and psychological distress and lead to an array of negative attitudes and behaviours.
That is so irritating
People suffering from chronic pain could also find their personalities becoming edgy or angry. Long-term pain can change a person’s relationship to basic functioning, so that even relatively mundane tasks are tough to tackle and ultimately frustrating. When so much effort is required just to get through the day, chronic pain sufferers can become irritable, short-tempered and impatient. While it might look like they are “sweating the small stuff”—what they’re actually grappling with has become quite “big stuff” to them.
Early treatment is the best treatment
Treating chronic pain can be challenging—but seeking treatment early on can often prevent chronic pain from getting worse. The goals of treatment are straightforward: to reduce pain, increase your ability to function and restore quality of life, and essentially retrain your brain. If you experience pain that last longer than about three months, you should see a pain management specialist to develop an individualised treatment plan that identify ways to manage your pain.
You can follow this link to read about the difference between acute and chronic pain or here to read the link to this information.