5. By reducing depression, suffering, and neurodegeneration
If you’ve been in pain for an extended period of time, you understand the negative effect it has on your quality of life and mental state. Chronic pain has serious health implications, including an impaired ability to make decisions, increased risk of psychological disorders, and even structural changes to the brain.
People who suffer from pain for at least six months are more than four times more likely than nonsufferers to be diagnosed with depression. And as pain becomes more severe or complex, symptoms of depression worsen. People with two or more areas of pain are six times more likely to be depressed, and people with three or more areas of pain are eight times more likely to be depressed. Pain and depression share biological pathways and neurotransmitters in the brain, so they often coexist, exacerbate one another, and respond to similar treatment.
Up to 90% of pain sufferers are unable to get a good night’s sleep. This lack of sleep contributes to a state often referred to as the “terrible triad” of suffering, sleeplessness, and sadness. Inadequate rest alone is enough to make someone not in pain become irritable. For people with chronic pain, the combination of fatigue, irritability, depression, and unrelenting pain becomes a vicious downward cycle that can lead some to desperately resort to overuse of painkillers, unnecessary elective surgeries, and even suicide.
Compared to control subjects, chronic pain patients are shown to have between 5% and 11% less volume in the neocortex, the part of the brain responsible for higher functions such as rational thought, language, spatial reasoning, motor control, and sensory perception. This decrease is equivalent to the effect that 10–20 years of normal aging has on the brain. The stress that often accompanies chronic pain is a likely contributor to this neurodegeneration, as the stress hormone cortisol has been shown to cause brain cells to wither away and die. Lifestyle changes resulting from chronic pain, such as avoiding physical activity and mentally challenging tasks, may also contribute to the reduction in brain matter.
Chronic pain is invisible, and can be all too easily ignored by people who haven’t experienced it. But if you’ve had chronic pain, you understand the stress, helplessness, depression, and fatigue that accompany it. On top of reducing opioid abuse, elective surgeries, and healthcare and disability costs, and improving overall health and lengthening lifespans, Clinical Somatics reduces human suffering. If you know someone in pain, please tell them about Clinical Somatics—you never know the impact it could make on their life.