Psychological effects of chronic pain
Chronic pain is very common in Australia and people living with pain are more prone to psychological distress such as anxiety and depression than those in the general community. Long term pain puts a lot of stress on the brain and cognitive issues such as low mood, difficulty with memory or concentration are familiar, no matter what the underlying pain condition is.
Chronic pain and its psychological effects have the potential to reduce quality of life, not only for the person with pain but for the family as well. In some cases, the psychological effects of pain can outlive the actual chronic pain itself and become the major health disorder. For instance, under-managed chronic pain may lead to less sleep, exhaustion, more stress, relationship and work problems and psychological distress so it is important to be able to intervene in this cycle to improve pain management and psychological welfare.
Evidence has been brought forward linking chronic pain and mental health. Statistics indicate that one in five Australian adults suffer from both severe chronic pain and either depression or other mood disorders. Furthermore, 21% of suicides within Australian are linked to physical health problems being present within the individual.
There are therapies that are recognized as being beneficial (apart from medication) so to maximise the medication benefit and pain management, other more active strategies will need to be employed. In fact, if physical exercise could be produced as a pill it could well be the new wonder drug. Some cognitive therapies include: cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness, relaxation and meditation.
Lifestyle changes are also recommended and are important ingredients in stabilising or improving pain health. These changes may include; keeping positive people around you, healthy eating, and regular physical activity and developing regular sleep patterns.
Successfully living with chronic pain involves a lot of work by the person with pain. There are no easy answers at present but these are some of the elements that can decrease suffering and pain impacts over time.
• Build knowledge of chronic pain to lessen the fear that the pain is causing more damage
• Meditation and relaxation techniques to reduce the muscle tension caused by pain and which in turn leads to more pain
• Improving sleep patterns because living with pain is exhausting and this fatigue can increase the pain experience and decrease the ability to cope
• Recognizing unhelpful thoughts and swapping these to improve mood and coping ability
• Doing more of the things you love doing because it's easier to concentrate on these and begin to move pain into the background
• Practise mindfulness and bring all of the senses to each and every moment
The nature of chronic pain is that it is a long-term aspect of someone's life and a key element to lessening its interference is to take on board cognitive strategies and actively schedule these into the day's routine just as one would with medication and physical strategies.