Pain is our bodies warning system, alerting us to a problem. But pain can outlive its purpose and become chronic pain. When that happens, it causes even more harm. Let’s see what can be done about that.
Good Pain bad Pain
Short-term, or acute pain, is good pain. This pain not only draws our attention to a problem, it also protects a damaged area from further harm (more on this later). There’s also long-term or chronic pain. This type of pain has outlived its purpose and is no longer useful. In fact, it now begins to cause its own injuries. But why does pain sometimes persist long after it’s needed?
Let’s explore these things, shall we?
Acute Pain is Your Friend
Imagine life without pain. What would it be like? If you’re suffering from chronic pain, living life pain-free probably sounds pretty good about now. Imagine how it would be to not feel pain…ever. But pain is our bodies warning system, alerting us to a potential problem.
But think about it.
You’re walking along barefoot somewhere, step on something, and slice your foot open. But, you don’t have any pain, so you pay no attention. Then there’s that sunburn, which makes your skin hypersensitive to light and touch. This keeps you from touching that area or exposing it to further light so that it can heal faster.
Or if you dislocate your hip, the pain will (hopefully) keep you from putting weight on it; thus causing more damage. And what about that chest pain that sent you to the hospital. That pain possibly saved your life. Think of the damage caused by not feeling any pain. So then, pain serves an initial purpose.
However, the very pain that saved your life can become your enemy.
Chronic Pain is Your Enemy
So that injury you had a while back is healed, but you’re still in pain. Or maybe some pain just started. There seems to be no reason for it, but it won’t go away. What causes this?
First of all, chronic pain complaints increase with age. And there are many causes. For example, just the changes that accompany normal aging can result in joint pain. Yet, on the other hand, older people tend to cope with pain better than younger people. This is due in part to peoples life experiences, and also health expectations in general.
But what damage does chronic pain cause? To begin with, it takes more effort to do daily tasks. Over time, this saps your strength. And that can make social interaction more difficult; as a result, you began to isolate more and more. Now it’s quite natural to become anxious about this. Eventually, depression can set in. However, anxiety and depression increase the sensation of pain; so it takes on a bit of a snowball effect.
But that’s not your only problem
Studies show that chronic pain actually changes your brain chemistry. This leads to memory and concentration problems. But perhaps the damage caused by stress is the most serious. And pain causes stress. And when stress becomes chronic, it causes chronic inflammation. Now you’re vulnerable to a whole bunch of other diseases.
And of course, pain also affects your sleep.
Chronic Pain and Sleep
If you have chronic pain, you’ll also suffer from fatigue and sleepiness. Your memory and quality of life will be reduced as well. The reason it has this effect is at least two-fold. First, chronic pain can cause you to wake up many times at night. But it also changes the amount of time spent in each sleep stage.
This is important because we need to spend a certain amount of time in each sleep stage. For instance, specific hormones are released in stage 3 sleep that help with the growth and restoration of your body. And Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is important for memory consolidation. Additionally, some sleep stages affect your perception of pain.
And while pain causes sleep fragmentation, poor sleep can cause an increase in perceived pain. This starts a vicious cycle. Because the anxiety and depression from pain and lack of sleep increase the feeling of chronic pain.
When Mice Don’t Sleep
When lab animals were deprived of sleep, their body temperature dropped, internal organs shut down, and they died fairly quickly. How does this happen? One study indicated these mice used up their energy almost twice as fast as other mice that were left to sleep. And because they couldn’t keep up with the energy loss, they died within 32 days!
With humans, hallucinations and paranoia set in long before more serious physical symptoms do. And although no human has been reported to die from sleep deprivation, it still has done some serious harm. Thus the once beneficial pain that alerted you to trouble, has now turned against you and is actually causing damage itself.
So if poor quality sleep leads to increased pain, it follows that getting a good nights rest can reduce pain. But how are you supposed to get some good quality sleep when you can’t even get comfortable?
Let’s look at some treatment options that can help us achieve this.
A group of medications known as Nonsteroidal Antiinflammatory Drugs are commonly used to treat pain. Some of these are Motrin and Aleve. However, studies now show there are dangers in taking these medications. These risks include:
1-Increased risk of Heart failure.
2-Ulcers and internal bleeding.
4-Serious allergic reactions
5-Dangers to children and teenagers.
Then there’re the narcotics, such as Tylenol with codeine, and Vicodin. However, these not only slow down your breathing but cause you to breathe more shallow as well. And if you already struggle with breathing in your sleep, these medications will only make things worse. Additionally, narcotics also reduce Stage 3 sleep, which is essential for the growth and restoration of your body.
So, whenever possible, treat the cause of the pain, don’t just numb it.
Exercise and other stressors release a chemical in our brains called Endorphins. The word Endorphin comes from 2 Greek words: Endo (from within), and Morpheús (The god of dreams), where we get the word Morphine. This is why physical exercise can make you feel good. Think runners high here.
But physical activity does more than just release endorphins. Additionally, physical activity (exercise) can prevent, or at least delay, pain; because pain can increase with immobility. So although being too physical can increase pain, lack of physical exercise has the same effect. Therefore balance is the key.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is another interesting thing you might want to check out.
So again, doing things to reduce pain can help you sleep better. And when you sleep better, pain is further reduced. In all this, the real challenge is to allow the good acute pain in, but keep the bad chronic pain out.
Acute pain protects us from further injury. But chronic pain just causes more damage. We need to be able to reduce chronic pain as best we can, while not affecting the benefits of acute pain. If you’ve found something that has helped your chronic pain, please leave a comment. You can help others suffering from this as well.
Till next time…Blessings.