Chronic pain has gotten a lot of attention in recent years. From discussions about its prevalence to the political discourse involved in approving medical cannabis, most of us have probably heard more about chronic pain in the last few years than during the rest of our lives combined. But what many people do not understand is that chronic pain is more than just hurting.
We are familiar with chronic pain as a physical symptom. After all, we experience it as the result of some sort of acute injury or chronic disease. Pain is a physical response to a physical stimulus. But for chronic pain sufferers, it goes well beyond the physical. Chronic pain has mental and emotional repercussions as well.
How Pain Is Triggered
At Lone Star Pain Medicine in Weatherford, Texas, pain specialists treat patients with a number of alternative treatments ranging from regenerative medicine to nerve blocking injections. They explain that pain is the result of signals being sent between nerves and the brain.
Let us say you place your hand on a hot stove. The heat you feel is the result of nerves in your hand sending signals to receptors in your brain. Should you hold your hand on the stove long enough to burn the skin, the signals being sent by your nerves change. The new signals are interpreted as pain rather than just heat. Pain triggers the fight or flight response that causes you to pull your hand away.
Because pain is the result of interactions between nerves and brain receptors, it has been theorized that a person’s emotional or mental state can influence their perception of pain. If this is true, people with chronic pain should feel at least somewhat better when their moods are positive. Likewise, negative moods should lead to feeling worse.
Pain Is Mentally Exhausting
The physical expression of pain is meant to be a warning sign. It is a warning sign that something is wrong with your body and it needs to be addressed. However, the warning sign loses its value in a chronic pain situation. Why? Because the pain persists even though the patient has taken steps to deal with whatever injury or illness is causing the pain.
Chronic pain that persists for more than three months can be mentally exhausting for this very reason. A pain sufferer is trying to get on with their life, but perceptions of pain keep getting in the way. There is a constant battle between the feeling of pain and the patient’s attempt to logically push through it. This conflict just wears a person out. And when chronic pain sufferers are mentally exhausted, they tend to be physically exhausted as well.
Chronic Pain Is Emotionally Trying
In addition to being mentally exhausting, chronic pain can also be emotionally trying. Let’s face it, pain is uncomfortable. It is unpleasant. Living with chronic pain puts a person in a situation of having to be permanently uncomfortable. Long-term discomfort can do a number on a person’s emotions.
Someone who doesn’t suffer from chronic pain can still be emotionally raw as the result of a headache. A soon-to-be mother can be emotionally on edge during labor while a couple of broken bones can cause dad to be in a bad mood at some point in the future. If acute pain can be emotionally trying, imagine how chronic pain must be.
Chronic pain is complex because it is more than just physical hurting. It can also be difficult to treat. Thank goodness for pain doctors who are especially adept at helping patients find relief.