​​How Does Chronic Pain Affect the Brain?

by | May 4, 2022 | Mind Body Spirit, Physical Therapy, Somatics

While short-term pain is an effective indicator of injury or illness, your brain continuously adjusts your body when pain is present for long periods. Hence, chronic pain (characterized as pain that lasts for three months or longer) can be challenging for your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. The presence of pain prompts the question, “How does chronic pain affect the brain?” In this post, we discuss the specific effects of chronic pain.

How Does Chronic Pain Affect the Brain?

Chronic pain is an exhausting experience and, unfortunately, a pervasive and significant source of suffering. The symptoms may take many different forms, but their impact can be similar for all who live with pain. A common thread throughout the experience of those who live with chronic pain is its impact on sleep, work or travel, family interaction, ability to think clearly, and engagement in social activities.

People who suffer from chronic pain often struggle to find support, and many cannot get the help they need when they need it. Many cannot see a specialist as soon or as often as necessary, which leaves the condition untreated. Anxiety, depression, motor control changes, and shifts in our central nervous system exemplify how chronic pain affects your brain. 

Anxiety and Depression

As a result of ongoing pain, you might be unable to work a nine to five job or engage in the hobbies you were once able to. This loss can lead to low moods or depression, particularly if you feel isolated at home and away from meaningful relationships. Many people with chronic pain also experience anxiety or fear about financial struggles due to not working or potentially worsening pain. However, there are some fundamental or essential pain facts that, if known, can be helpful when navigating wicked waves of emotion. 

  • Pain protects us and promotes healing. Pain provides a protective safety buffer to prevent injury. The presence of inflammation and previous injuries expand the brain’s need for a safety buffer, which restricts choices in how we move.
  • Persistent pain overprotects us and prevents recovery.
  • Many factors influence pain.
  • There are many ways to reduce pain and promote recovery.

Motor Control

Chronic pain reduces the volume of gray matter our brains have. Gray matter is responsible for memory, concentration, and motor control or how we move. If you experience chronic pain, the chances are that you have trouble with your everyday movements, coordination, and balance. However, this loss of gray matter is reversible with the proper treatment that influences the brain’s neural networks and our ability to sense or perceive differences or changes.

Central Nervous System Changes

Our brains change depending on what environment we are in and our exposure to certain stimuli. As you continue to experience or anticipate pain, your brain changes its neural connections or wiring to expect pain or the threat of pain. Unfortunately, this can mean that your nerves become more sensitive and react quickly, overprotecting you and preventing recovery. Even simple activities such as taking a shower can hurt or make you feel uncomfortable. However, empirical data clearly shows that pain is dynamic and changes over seconds, minutes, weeks, months, and years; therefore, our brain can also change. Research confirms knowing essential insights regarding pain can change the brain, bringing genuine scientifically-based hope to people who feel like they are in a situation where they can’t change much about their pain. 

What Do Somatic Principles Bring to Your Life?

Somatic practices focus on how the body moves instead of how it appears. It helps the brain (and you) understand that the body is safer than it feels. A somatic-focused movement experience allows the brain to feel or sense that the body is safe. Embedded in somatic modalities such as the Feldenkrais™ method and Integral Human Gait Theory™ are learning strategies that enhance the brain’s recognition of safety experience.

These exercises help you become more aware of your movement habits and improve your capacity to move without pain. As a branch of movement education, somatics emphasizes compassionate attention to how body parts can move differently and safely, allowing us to return to everyday moving activities with more pleasure and ease, walking, bending over, or even running. Re-educating our movement quality and upgrading essential pain facts can be used to enhance your quality of life as you stay present and mindful.

Ready to Incorporate Somatic Modalities for Chronic Pain?

How does chronic pain affect the brain? It influences your mood, movement patterns, and pain sensitivity. As a result, you may feel isolated and experience pain more often. A somatic modality can help you alter your movement patterns and upgrade the brain’s innate response to pain and subsequent strain within your body.

To book a somatic movement session with me, call 812-344-4119.