At the same time, though, people tend to think of pain as something you should just deal with….adults shouldn’t be crybabies…everybody hurts a little as they get older…
But those attitudes are as much a problem as your physical pain!
You should not “just deal with” physical pain. In fact, doing so can actually be unhealthy for you.
What Is Chronic Physical Pain – and Who Deals with It
Most physical pain falls into one of two categories: acute and chronic. Acute pain is the sharp, immediate pain that indicates you’ve injured yourself. It’s your body’s way of telling you that there’s a real problem you need to look into.
Then there’s chronic physical pain. Chronic physical pain can be sharp – or a dull ache. It can be continuous – or it can come in waves. Some days, it might be annoying – while other days or for other people, it can be practically debilitating. The one constant to chronic physical pain is that it’s, well, constant.
To count as chronic pain, it has to last for at least twelve weeks but may go on for years. And as untenable as that sounds, more than 100 million Americans live with chronic, physical pain every day.
In the United States, the most common form of chronic pain is lower back pain, with 24-30% of the entire population living with physical pain in their backs. Another common source of pain is arthritis. But some people don’t know or don’t remember what caused their physical pain initially.
So if you deal with physical pain, know you’re not alone. Still, these statistics might make it feel as if you should just suck it up and deal. But that would be a mistake because physical pain is about a lot more than just whatever hurts…
What Physical Pain Does to Your Brain
In a body that’s pain-free, changing your thoughts and activities will change where the brain is active. In other words, activity registers throughout your whole brain depending on what you’re thinking about, doing, or feeling.
However, in the brains of someone dealing with chronic physical pain, brain activity shows up constantly in the frontal lobes of the brain, where humans register emotions. Changing your thoughts or activities only moves the brain activity away from the front so much.
What this means is that the cells in the frontal lobe of your brain are more active than they’re designed to be – and like with anything else that you run too fast for too long, those cells will start to die off. So much so that some people in chronic physical pain have experienced an 11% reduction in brain size.
But that’s not all. The brain also rewires itself under chronic pain conditions. It builds more connections between the parts of the brain in charge of pain, stress, and emotions, all while showing less activity in the parts of the brain that process sensory stimulation.
Sensory stimulation doesn’t just include sights, feelings, and sounds. Sensory stimulation also includes problem solving, decision making, and socialization. Yet these are the very parts of the brain where you see less activity in people suffering from chronic physical pain. In some cases, the cells in these areas can begin to atrophy and die, as well, from lack of use.
Naturally, if the parts of your brain that are used for problem solving and decision making are dying off, it means that making decisions and solving problems become difficult in a way they’ve never been before. People living with chronic physical pain experience behavior and personality changes because their brains are literally changing.
How Physical Pain Affects Your Blood Pressure
If all of that wasn’t scary enough, chronic physical pain affects your blood pressure as well.
See, physical pain is recognized by the body as an emergency situation. Stress hormones are released and the adrenal glands get the message to flood the body with adrenaline, which sends your blood pressure up. When the pain is acute and temporary, this doesn’t have a long-term impact.
But your body doesn’t know the difference between an immediate, short-term emergency and a long-term chronic condition. It just knows there’s physical pain registered in the body, and it should respond. So your blood pressure stays higher than it should be.…
And Your Blood Glucose Levels
Physical pain impacts your blood glucose levels in a similar way.
First, stress can cause your blood glucose levels to spike - and chronic physical pain can definitely cause stress (although we’ll get to more about that in a moment). You’re in pain, which makes you stressed, which spikes your blood sugar.
But pain itself causes your blood sugar to rise, as well. Just like with blood pressure, when you’re in physical pain – short-term or chronic – your body releases hormones in response. A side effect of these hormones, though, is a rise in blood sugar levels. The longer you’re in pain, the longer the hormones are produced – which keeps your blood sugar elevated.
Indirect Physical Impacts of Physical Pain
Up until now, I’ve talked about very direct ways your body is impacted by chronic physical pain. But there’s an important, indirect way you have to deal with the effects of physical pain, too.
I told you we’d get back to it.
Physical pain causes stress. Chronic physical pain can cause chronic stress, if you’re not careful. And you probably know the results of stress:
- Stomach troubles…
- Lowered immunity…
- Low energy…
The list goes on and on. But in this case, these symptoms aren’t just the result of stress – they’re the result of physical pain, as well.
Don’t Live With It – DEAL With It
Luckily, there are so many ways to deal with physical pain, if it’s short term or chronic. It just doesn’t make sense to feel like you have to live with it. And no, you don’t have to take scary, addictive prescription drugs.
Try temperature therapy – good old fashioned ice packs and heating pads. Choose ice for sharp pain that includes swelling, and heat for duller pain that needs soothing. Don’t apply either directly to your skin, and remove them both after about twenty minutes.
Don’t turn your nose up at alternative treatments. While they may sound “out there” deep breathing, guided meditation, even hypnosis are building a track record of helping people ease their physical pain.
You’re already in physical pain. You shouldn’t make yourself sick trying to prove how tough you are on top of it. Manage your physical pain, and treat your physical health.