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Chronic Pain Can Cause Long-Lasting Damage To Your Brain

Chronic Pain Can Cause Long-Lasting Damage To Your Brain

Chronic pain can damage and change your brain. If you live with chronic pain, you will know how devastating and wide-ranging the effects can be on your mental processing speed, your mood, and your memory.

Research with humans and mice, has revealed that chronic pain exerts measurable effects on the brain, and that these changes can last even once the pain has stopped. From this perspective, chronic pain isn’t just a troublesome day-to-day issue that affects many people worldwide. It is also a common cause of brain damage that can greatly increase the risk of anxiety, depression and cognitive dysfunction in those who suffer from it.

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How exactly does pain change the brain?

Researchers based at Northwestern University examined brain functioning in humans and mice living with chronic pain. First, they examined the differences in mental functioning in people living with and without chronic pain. Using brain scans, researchers discovered that those with long-term pain such as back pain (defined as greater than six months in duration) showed evidence of hippocampal shrinkage. This is significant, because the hippocampus is an area of gray matter within the brain responsible for learning and memory. It is shown highlighted in red on the image below:

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Hippocampus
    Image: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3c/MRI_Location_Hippocampus_up..png

    Pain ages the brain

    The researchers report that chronic pain, such as that seen in sciatica, can cause gray matter in the brain to shrink by up to 11% each year, compared to 0.5% seen in healthy humans. In other words, long-lasting pain greatly speeds up the usual ageing process. This in turn has a significant impact on a range of mental functions such as the ability to learn, to handle anxiety, and engage in appropriate emotion regulation.

    This in turn leaves sufferers at a heightened risk for emotional disturbances. Along with the hippocampus, another region of the brain negatively affected by chronic pain is the amygdala, shown highlighted on the image below. The amygdala is important for fear regulation, which may explain why those with decreased amygdala volume are more likely to suffer from anxiety.

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    brainlabelled
      Image: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ad/EQbrain_optical_stim_en.jpg

      The researchers also investigated the effects of pain on brain structures and processes, using animal studies. They discovered that compared with mice leading pain-free lives, the animals living with chronic pain had trouble with emotion-related memory tasks. They were also more anxious in general compared with the control mice. The brains of the affected mice struggled to grow new neuronal connections in the hippocampus.

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      Usually, both humans and rodents can form new connections in this area of the brain, which explains why we can continue to learn new knowledge and skills throughout our lives. However, when the hippocampus can no longer make these connections, as is the case in those with chronic pain, mental performance suffers.

      As pain continues, damage may worsen

      Why exactly does chronic pain result in gray matter shrinkage? It is possible that as chronic pain is ongoing, nerve cells in the brain are placed under an unusually high load. This means that they are less able to form new connections with other cells. As the chronic pain continues, it may become increasingly less responsive to conventional pain treatments due to alterations in these brain areas.

      Natural ways to tackle chronic pain

      Given that chronic pain can cause brain damage, it is important to get it under control as soon as possible. Along with conventional medicine, there are numerous ways by which you can reduce your pain levels naturally. Natural methods of pain reduction include acupuncture, massage, hypnosis, cognitive behavioral therapy, yoga, and herbal remedies. Always remember to consult with your regular health practitioner before trying a new course of treatment.

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      Jay Hill

      Freelance Writer

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      Last Updated on October 18, 2018

      10 Benefits of Sleeping Naked You Probably Didn’t Know

      10 Benefits of Sleeping Naked You Probably Didn’t Know

      Sleeping is one of the most important things we do every night.

      Getting the right amount of sleep has an untold number of health benefits and not getting enough sleep is a serious problem in many countries around the world.

      So you should have heard of the many benefits of getting adequate sleep, but did you know that you can get additional benefits by sleeping naked?

      Here are some benefits of sleeping in the nude:

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      Video Summary

      1. It is easier.

      When you don’t have to worry about sleeping in clothes, things start to get easier. You don’t have to buy pajamas, which can save you money. You have less clothes to wash and less clothes to put away. You may have to clean your bed sheets more often, but not nearly as often as you’d have to wash your pajamas when you run out.

      2. It forces you to be ready to go more often.

      Some people get off of work, change into their pajamas, and use this as an excuse to stay home the rest of the evening. This can lead to a more sedentary lifestyle, which has been attributed to things like weight gain.[1] When you keep your regular clothes on, you tend to go out more often and that’s a good thing.

      3. It can make you feel happier and more free.

      Just imagine the feeling of laying in bed naked. You’re free of your pants and underwear. Women, you’re not wearing a constrictive bra. It’s just you sandwiched between two cool sheets. The feeling just makes you want to smile and it makes you feel more free. Everyone can use that kind of good feeling every now and then, and it may even help you be happier as a person.

      4. Skin-on-skin contact is the best.

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        If you’re married, or living with your significant other, sleeping naked gives a greater chance of skin-on-skin contact, especially when it comes to cuddling. This kind of contact can also lead to a more active sex life. All of this releases copious amounts of oxytocin, which is the neurotransmitter that helps you feel those good feelings about your significant other.[2]

        5. It could lead to better sleep.

        Let’s revisit the scenario I described above. There are no drawstrings or clothes getting tangled in sheets. You don’t have to worry about shirts getting twisted. All of these distractions go away when you sleep naked and it may help you get better, deeper sleep. You don’t need science to tell you that better, deeper sleep only helps you be healthier.

        6. It can help your skin.

        For once your body gets to breathe. Your private parts, armpits, and feet are generally restricted all day and are often covered by multiple layers, even in the summer time. Give those parts a chance to air out and breathe. This can lower the risk of skin diseases, like athlete’s foot, that result from wet, restricted skin.[3]

        7. It helps you regulate your cortisol.

        Cortisol is a very strange chemical in the body but it can do a lot of damage. When you sleep naked, it helps keep your body temperature at the optimal ranges so your body can better create cortisol. If you sleep overheated your cortisol levels tend to stay high, even after you wake up. This can lead to increased anxiety, cravings for bad food, weight gain, and more terrible things.[4] Sleep naked so you can keep your body temperature down and sleep well so your body can properly produce and regulate cortisol.

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        8. It balances your melatonin and growth hormone.

        Continuing along that same vein, keeping your sleeping environment below 70 degrees (F) every night can help your body regulate its melatonin and growth hormone levels. These chemicals help the body do things like prevent aging and are essential to good health. When you sleep in clothes, your body heats up and prevents effective use of these hormones. In other words, sleeping with clothes on makes you grow old faster.

        9. It can keep your sex organs happier.

        For men, the cooler sleeping conditions allows your testes to remain at a cooler temperature. This helps keep your sperm healthy and your reproductive systems functioning as normal. For women, the cooler and more airy sleeping conditions can actually help prevent yeast infections. Yeast grows better in warm, moist conditions.[5] When it’s cooler and dryer, the growth of yeast is prevented.

        10. Sleeping in the summer is more bearable.

          Summertime is a tricky time to get good sleep. If you don’t have air conditioning, then you may find your bedroom a bit stuffy at night.

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          Shedding those bedtime clothes can help the bedroom feel more comfortable. You may even be able to turn the A/C off on those cooler nights, which can save you a few bucks on your electricity bill.

          Don’t wake up drenched in sweat again because your thermostat is downstairs and the hot air expands up to your bedroom where the thermostat can’t read the warm temperatures.

          Sleep well with your naked body!

          With these tips in mind, it’s time to start taking off your clothes at night!

          Of course, there are times where clothes are preferable. If you are ill or it’s cold outside, then you should sleep with clothes on to help you stay warm and prevent further illness. Otherwise, go commando!

          If you’re looking for more tips to sleep well and get up feeling energetic, I recommend you to check out this guide:

          Want to Feel More Energized Throughout the Day? Start With This

          Reference

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