How Does Chronic Pain Affect the Brain?

When an individual is suffering from a chronic disease, their life is undoubtedly affected by this relentless pain. This constant pain can cause massive changes in the way of brain works and the structures making up this organ. Chronic pain can influence thoughts, memory, patterns, sleep, concentration, mental health, and even connections with others.

How Does the Brain Process Pain?

The effects commonly experienced from persistent pain might sound far-reaching and exaggerated. However, those who are suffering from this condition can understand how debilitating it might be. Nonetheless, research has been conducted to discover how the brain processes pain to show that the brain reacts differently when experiencing short-term and long-term pain.

When the brain experiences long-term pain, it has the potential to change the central nervous system (or CNS) and influence emotional, sensory, and modular circuits. From such research, chronic pain is viewed as a neurological disease that comes with symptoms of depression and anxiety.

This is because of the altered cognitive and emotional state formed by the CNS. Meaning, the longer this pain is experienced, the greater its severity becomes, and the more prone patients are to suffering feelings of anxiety, fear, and depression.

Your body and mind aren’t built to withstand being in pain for prolonged periods. That’s why pain lasting for more than three months can take a serious toll. Hence, debilitating pain can interfere with a sufferer’s life. Let’s take a deeper look at these effects:

Depression, Anxiety, and Low Mood

One of the most significant impacts of chronic pain is how it affects our mood. Being in constant pain can already be taxing emotionally. However, pairing this with the existing effects of chronic pain has on our lives can make worsen our mental state even more.

Being diagnosed with this condition can be challenging to come to terms with because you’re essentially in pain for the rest of your life. However, untreated chronic pain can be far worse, as functioning is reduced. Many individuals can’t work or keep up with hobbies and activities they previously did. This can be detrimental to a person’s mood.

Concerns surrounding this pain worsening are likely to induce stress and anxiety. Additionally, social isolation can occur when individuals feel alone in their struggles, which contributes to reduced mood levels.

Hypervigilance is commonly associated with chronic pain, meaning that sufferers are too focused on their pain. This generally leads to catastrophization, which entails the person excessively worrying about their pain to the point where it’s interfering with their lives. Oftentimes, this worry leads to worsened pain and results in patients fearing this condition and even avoiding activities to stop this pain from becoming more severe.

Changes in the Brain

Being in pain for extended periods can change the structure of our brains. This chronic pain adversely impacts the volume of gray matter present in our brains. This gray matter is the location in the brain controlling attention, learning, memory, motor control, thought processes, and coordination.

These cause problems with memory processing, keeping attention and focusing on one task, learning new things, finding solutions, and thinking through problems. Motor control can also be impacted. Meaning, chronic patients can struggle to control their motor functions. This includes more precise coordination or movements and day-to-day activities.

These changes might seem like the end of the world for patients. However, this isn’t the case, as your brain isn’t permanently damaged. The impact of chronic pain on the brain’s structure is reversible

You can receive effective treatment for your chronic pain, meaning you can reverse these effects and regain normal brain functioning. However, the longer your chronic pain goes untreated, the more gray matter is lost. Hence, the longer it takes to recover if you go without treatment for more extended periods.

Altered Central Nervous System Processing

Our brains are neuroplastic. This means that your brain structure can change as you modify what is happening in your specific environment. When your brain is suffering from chronic pain, the neural pathways found in our minds and the central nervous system change. From this, they become over-reactive and sensitized.

As patients become more sensitized to this prolonged pain, they feel more pain. This is called hyperalgesia. These patients generally experience pain because of external stimuli when this shouldn’t happen. An example would be when they take a shower or scratch their skin. This is called allodynia.

The neurochemistry of chronic pain sufferers is altered when compared to individuals without this condition. This means that the messages sent and received throughout the body by nerves and chemicals are different from those experiencing chronic pain and those who aren’t. From here, the intensity of smells and sounds is enhanced for those with distraught neurochemistry.

Effects on Brain Equilibrium

The various structures within the brain of a healthy individual have something known as a state of equilibrium. This means that these regions of the brain function in a balanced state with one another. In a healthy brain, one region is more active while others are less active as a result.

However, scientists have found the brains of chronic pain patients are different. The region of the mind regulating emotions is consistently active, even when other parts are more active. This wears on the specific region of the brain and can cause it not to function correctly, as it doesn’t gain the rest it needs.

Generally, when trying to focus on a specific task or problem, the area needed in the brain to complete this activity becomes more active while others rest for enhanced concentration. Nonetheless, chronic pain patients always have a ‘noisy’ brain, resulting in reduced attention span, problems thinking with clarity and problem-solving skills.

Wrapping It Up

Receiving the right treatment for chronic pain can help reduce these issues and make it easier to live with this condition. One treatment plan that offers exceptional lower back pain-relieving properties is the TOPS system. This is a motion spinal implant that helps cure lower back issues without fusion.

It works as an implant after conducting decompression on the affected areas of the spine. Unlike other implants, it doesn’t reduce motions and allows you comfort and stability while conducting your daily activities. Hence, helping reduce the adverse effects of chronic pain.