Posted on March 23, 2017 by Dr.Paul
We all know how unwanted and unwelcome pain can quickly ruin your day, from a headache to a scrape to an ache in your lower back. Pain doesn’t just hurt—it affects the way you make decisions, and even the way you behave or react to life events. Unexpected pain can lead you to cancel social engagements and become more irritable and grumpy than usual.
With chronic pain, the effects are often similar—but the build-up over time can make them much worse. In some cases, long-term pain can lead to problems with employment, social isolation, and mental health, sometimes including mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.
At PMR, we’re especially aware of the consequences of long-term chronic pain—and the advantages of effective, comprehensive treatment that targets underlying sources. For that reason, we believe it’s especially important to understand the many ways in which chronic pain can keep you from leading your best possible life.
What Is Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain comes in many forms, and it’s as unique as the individual patient that experiences it. The pain may be mild or severe. It might last for months, years, or decades. It can be constant, or it can come in waves. The source could be anything from joint problems (including arthritis) to carpal tunnel syndrome to overuse from work. Often, pain becomes worse as people age, and as many as 80% of Americans will experience some form of low back pain within their lives. But chronic pain can hit at any age, and in many areas of the body.
What ties it all together is that the pain lasts for several months or longer, and interferes with your ability to complete everyday tasks, from work obligations to chores to social gatherings. There is no “cure” for chronic pain, but the pain can often be reduced or eliminated by treating its underlying cause. Without treatment, the potential consequences range from obnoxious to severe.
Effects on Employment and Job Performance
Chronic pain can be a serious detriment to overall job performance. In fact, common low back pain is the second leading cause of missed work days. That’s a lot of lost productivity, but the problem is even worse with physically demanding jobs.
Laborers with chronic pain find their prospects diminishing as their pain worsens. In some scenarios, they may lose their jobs or find themselves unable to track down work because of the condition. This can create a frustrating cycle, in which it’s difficult to work through the pain, yet too costly to treat the pain without employment.
Changes in Personality
It’s not just lived experience, but science as well: pain makes it considerably more difficult to deal with everyday challenges. In fact, according to the Integrative Pain Center of Arizona, “constant pain raises the focus threshold for basic functioning, which leaves the pained person with a greatly reduced ability to find solutions or workarounds to even relatively mundane problems.”
In other words, the little things are harder for people living in pain. With chronic pain, your patience is limited, and it’s much easier to become irritable and annoyed. You feel as if every task requires additional energy. That can leave you feeling angry, drained, and down on yourself.
People with chronic pain will seek quiet, controlled environments when possible, and may sleep more to avoid the pain. Often, that leads to social isolation, and may even contribute to mental health problems.
Mental Health Problems
Depression is one of the leading health crises of our time, and it appears that chronic pain may be a significant contributor. In fact, according to one estimate, about one in three people suffering from chronic pain will develop clinical depression.
Keep in mind that the relationship between pain and depression can be complicated. Pain may cause depression, but depression can also cause physical pain. In any case, treatment will only be effective if the underlying cause is determined first.
Pain may also contribute to other mental health problems, including anxiety. For example, the worry and anticipation that surrounds pain that comes and goes can contribute to a state of constant stress. Pain may also affect sleep, which in turn affects your mental capacity.
Social Isolation and Relationships
As mentioned above, chronic pain often leads to social isolation. Even if you can make it out of bed and into the office, the course of everyday life may leave you so exhausted that you simply aren’t interested in spending the rest of your day socializing.
No one should feel obligated to go out all the time, but prolonged isolation can lead to other problems. Relationships—romantic and not—are important for overall wellbeing. They allow you to let loose and sound off about what’s bothering you. When chronic pain leads to isolation, these critical relationships will suffer, too.
Is Surgery Necessary?
The treatment of chronic pain always depends on underlying causes. In most cases, surgery will not be required. Non-invasive modalities, such as chiropractic care and acupuncture, combined with holistic lifestyle choices, can make a huge difference. In rare cases, however, surgery may be required. At PMR, we work with patients and physicians to ensure long-term health by supplementing surgery with other forms of care.
Holistic, Comprehensive Approaches
Once an accurate diagnosis has been made, a holistic and comprehensive treatment plan can begin. At PMR, this treatment plan may involve several modalities. Remember that pain is related to lifestyle—including exercise, diet, and medication. We’ll take all of that into account, and more, whenever we treat chronic pain.
Pain is no joke, and chronic pain can have a serious, lasting impact on your ability to enjoy life. The good news is that proper treatment—the earlier, the better—can help you to overcome those obstacles and lead the happy, healthy life you deserve.
For more information on treating chronic pain, contact us at PMR today!