When we experience brief pain such as a stubbed toe or a paper cut, it is unpleasant but at least the pain fades relatively quickly. Imagine being in pain that NEVER fades, or that fades only to come back a few hours later. What would that do to a person? This is chronic pain.
What Chronic Pain Does
Untreated chronic pain, a diagnosis including arthritis, back pain, and recurring migraines, can have a profound effect on a person’s day-to day-life. It can cause one to become irritable, short-tempered, and impatient, and with good reason. Just basic functioning through pain can leave the pained person with a greatly reduced ability to find solutions or workarounds to even relatively mundane problems. Consider a traffic jam. Most people would be mildly annoyed by this. However, for those with pain, an event like this could seriously throw off their rhythm — one who is putting forth so much effort just to get through the day.
After a while, pain wears a person down, draining their energy and sapping their motivation. They sometimes attempt to limit social contact in an effort to reduce stress and to decrease the amount of energy they have to spend reacting to their environment. Eventually, many people with chronic pain develop depression-like symptoms:
- lack of interpersonal interaction
- difficulty concentrating on simple tasks
- the desire to simplify their life as much as possible
- seeking isolation and quiet
Sleeping often makes the pain less intrusive, and that combined with the exhaustion that pain induces means that it isn’t uncommon for a person to start sleeping upwards of ten or more hours a day.
Some recent studies have also shown that chronic pain can actually affect a person’s brain chemistry and even change the wiring of the nervous system. Cells in the spinal cord and brain of a person with chronic pain, especially in the section of the brain that processes emotion, deteriorate more quickly than normal, exacerbating many of the depression-like symptoms. It becomes physically more difficult for people with chronic pain to process multiple things at once and react to ongoing changes in their environment, limiting their ability to focus even more. Sleep also becomes difficult, because the section of the brain that regulates sense-data also regulates the sleep cycle. This regulator becomes smaller from reacting to the pain, making falling asleep more difficult for people with chronic pain.
After enough recurring pain, the brain rewires itself to anticipate future bouts, which makes patients constantly wary and causes significant anxiety related to pain. Because chronic pain often mimics depression by altering how a person’s brain reacts to discomfort and pain, chronic pain often biologically creates a feeling of hopelessness and makes it more difficult to process future pain in a healthy way. In fact, roughly one third of patients with chronic pain develop depression at some point during their lifetime.
For those that suffer from either chronic pain or depression, chiropractic care may help with relief from the underlying symptoms. It has been seen that nerves in the spinal cord may have an effect on both the pain and the emotional triggers that have been caused by both the pain and depression. Using various chiropractic adjustments may aid in boosting the nervous system and immune system in sending messages to the brain and aiding in the positive change in a person’s main and depression symptoms.