Countless individuals live with chronic pain. Whether it is constant or intermittent, chronic pain is a debilitating problem that significantly interferes with virtually all areas of daily life—from work to physical fitness to personal hygiene. Pain management also becomes more challenging when chronic pain is present because of the risks of long-term medication use. For many, starting physical therapy or considering spine surgery is a step toward emotional relief as well as pain relief.
Short-term pain can certainly be distressing, but its temporary nature can make it more bearable. A person who suffers from chronic pain has no such expectations. Patients with chronic pain know that the next day will be just as painful, if not more so, than the day before. As time passes, it is possible that the pain triggers mental rewiring. The perception of pain is transmitted via the nerves. When pain signals are being sent constantly for a prolonged period of time, research suggests that cell degeneration occurs more quickly and function can be impaired. For instance, a brain that is preoccupied with pain signals may be less capable of managing emotional regulation.
Mood disorders are not uncommon among people who have suffered from pain for a long time. Chronic pain sufferers are more likely to experience mood swings, irritability, anxiety, and even clinical depression. This may not only be attributable to the mental rewiring triggered by pain signals, but perhaps also to the disheartening nature of pain that is not expected to end once healing is complete. A disordered mood can be further exacerbated by the patient’s functional impairments with regard to work, family obligations, and personal commitments.
Patients with chronic pain often report problems sleeping. Pain can make it nearly impossible to find a comfortable sleeping position. And if the sleeper shifts position while unconscious, the sudden resurgence of pain can easily awaken him or her. Consequently, sleep deprivation can aggravate poor emotional regulation.
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