Chronic Pain’s Effect on the Brain

Pain is uncomfortable for everybody; from a small cut leading to minor pain or a serious  musculoskeletal injury that results in chronic pain, there is a wide range of levels of suffering  that one may experience as a result of pain. In most cases, pain usually fades away. However, some people experience the pain that never fades or fades and recurs after a couple of hours. This is what we call chronic pain.

Chronic pain may be caused by an injury or underlying pathology. In some cases, the reason for the pain may be quite obvious while in other cases, the pain is unexplainable. This is often the case for individuals who experience chronic pain even after the injury or pathology has been treated and healed. Common causes of chronic pain include conditions such as migraines, arthritis, back pain and sports injuries among others. Pain has a profound effect on the daily life of the person that experiences it. People dealing with long-term suffering are bound to experience some serious mental effects of the pain.

In most cases, people who experience chronic pain are often depressed, anxious and irritable, short tempered or have a difficult time making even the simplest decision. This is because constant pain affects basic functioning by raising the focus threshold. People who suffer from chronic pain may be greatly annoyed in situations such as traffic jams or delays, an annoying situation that most people will find easier to ultimately take in stride. This is because the person is already putting so much effort into getting through the day that they barely have the energy for anything else.

Pain is bound to wear someone down and drain their energy and motivation. Research has shown that chronic pain sufferers develop a condition where the front region of the brain associated with emotions fails to operate as it should. Most chronic pain sufferers end up limiting social contact so they can reduce stress or the amount of energy they have to spend in their environments to get through the day. They try to simplify life as much as possible by reducing daily tasks to a bare necessary minimum and spend a lot of time isolated and quiet. Chronic pain has a lot of strain on interpersonal interaction and concentration.

According to research, the excessive activity from the brain nerve cells in the overactive region of the brain will prematurely wear out and die. Long-term pain and suffering can result in as much as an 11% reduction in the size of the brain. This kind of brain matter reduction often takes place in ten or twenty years among healthy people who do not suffer from constant pain.

Besides the changes to the gray matter of the brain, the constant nerve activity and firing of nerves causes rewiring in different ways than is normal to the brain. The nerve cells in the white matter of the brain tend to develop more chronic wiring patterns for people in chronic pain.