Pain is an unpleasant sensation with varying degrees between mild and agony. Pain scales range from 1-10 and some scales have faces to help a person better define their discomfort.
And is further broken down into acute and chronic pain.
Everyone has experienced pain at some point in their life. Perhaps it has been merely from a needle prick for the administration of a vaccine, the skinned knee from falling off a bicycle or post-surgical strain that starts off bad then gradually improves before it resolves.
However, for 20% of the global population, the pain sticks around and sometimes worsens.
It eventually ends up being diagnosed as chronic which can be debilitating and both acute and chronic pain can have an impact on a person’s overall wellbeing and that has an impact on the discomfort the person feels.
Acute pain is any short term ache caused by something specific like a sprain, strain, surgery or broken bone; or like that of a headache. Although there are tips and tricks to loosen up headaches, it’s important to categorize it as being acute or chronic.
Acute pain is short term with a maximum time span of 3-6 months. It can still fall anywhere on the pain scale…it can be mild and last only a moment or severe and last for weeks or months…up to six months.
Chronic pain, however, is discomfort that doesn’t go away even after the initial injury or illness has passed. Chronic pain sometimes exists with no injury or apparent body damage and most often, it is resistant to medical treatment. It can be the result of a previous injury that has caused tissue damage but, very often, is related more to nerve damage.
There is an endless list of causes of chronic pain. Low back pain is at the top of the list of causes with headaches in second place. There are many other disorders such as post-surgical pain like that from an amputation.
Autoimmune disorders, fibromyalgia and several types of arthritis can also be classified as chronic pain.
Every person has their own pain threshold and, unfortunately, it is the most invisible health issue to other people unless a cane, walker or wheelchair is required which is frustrating to someone in pain all the time.
No matter the source and the options available to try and manage, pain changes a person. It changes their abilities, their outlook on life and their attitudes.
Though there are many more, here are the 7 most common ways pain changes a person. Some are voluntary as the person tries to make accommodations to ease their suffering but other changes just happen as a result of it.
Even if you don’t suffer from chronic pain you probably know someone who does and this article should help you identify with that person’s behavior and hopefully you will better understand them.
1. Increase in fatigue
Discovered during sleep studies, there is an approximate 30% increase in sleep deprivation between those individuals with no pain to those who suffer from it.
This means that people experiencing pain may sleep the same number of hours as everyone else but their brain is still receiving pain impulses which decreases the quality of sleep they get at night which increases daytime fatigue. For example, out of experience, I can tell that sleeping with sciatica might be quite tricky.
People who have had surgery sleep more partly due to the pain and partly because their body needs extra energy for the healing process.
For someone with chronic pain, this impact is every night of their life which severely impacts daytime fatigue levels. If you have ever had a sleepless night or 2, try to imagine how you would feel if that occurred every night.
2. A decrease in work output
Because of the increased fatigue levels from lack of sleep, a person’s work is often impacted by not only their ongoing pain but also the fatigue.
Most of us don’t do well when we are tired. Our focus is decreased and sometimes mundane tasks are intolerable. The impact of decreased work output depends on the type of job a person has.
A desk job for someone with back pain may be more productive than a mechanic who is required to bend, lift, stretch and spend more time on his feet. Often it’s difficult for an employer to accept a decrease in output and they cannot always be accommodating.
My back issues don’t allow me to sit for extended periods of time, therefore, a standard office job would not be acceptable. I do love the calming effects of my infrared heating pad, but it’s a short-term treatment.
3. Withdrawal from physical activities
The body was designed with nerve pathways that send pain messages to the brain when there is overuse in order for the person to stop that particular activity and rest for a while.
This exists as a threshold so we don’t cause injury to a muscle, tendon or ligament. In chronic pain sufferers, the torment is constant, every minute of every day and as their discomfort increases, their activities decrease.
I used to love yoga but as more of the poses became painful the more I was sitting through and the more I felt it was unfair to the others to see me doing less not knowing why and probably thinking I was just lazy because my pain is invisible to others.
4. Avoidance of social activities
Because of the pain and fatigue and the inconsistency of both, people will make plans only to cancel, sometimes at the last minute.
This starts to create rifts with friends and others in social circles.
Friends don’t see the pain, therefore can’t understand and will, eventually, just stop making plans altogether because they are always being put off. This leads to isolation which carries a burden of its own.
5. Impact on mental health
Like anyone who has received a negative diagnosis, whether cancer or pain, where they are told ‘sorry, there’s nothing we can do’ there is an initial sense of loss. Where that feeling of loss goes depends on the person.
Often, those individuals will start to feel self-pity and self-loathing. As previously stated they also feel isolated and useless which also has an impact on their jobs.
Unless an individual can lift themselves out by changing their attitude there is an increased risk of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
For those who can’t get a handle on their pain control, they can become addicted to the medications that are prescribed as these are usually narcotics and are overused because the person spirals to the point where they can’t get control over their pain.
6. Always feeling stress
The ongoing impact of pain increases stress. Stress and pain is an unfortunate endless cycle.
The other changes a pain sufferer experiences also increase stress because of how isolating it can become especially if friends retreat, the possible decrease in income and the impact that has on basic needs.
Then there is the constant feeling of fatigue and, if there’s a psychological diagnosis added, the stigma attached to the diagnosis. Anti-depressant medication can also contribute to fatigue.
7. They take more time
Pain often makes us not want to move. Think of that one time you fell off your bike and you didn’t want to bend that skinned knee. Pain sufferers live like that every day.
Depending on the cause of their pain it may take them extra time just to get dressed in the morning because their fingers can’t manipulate buttons or zippers. Someone else may take an extra-long time just walking to their car.
The diagnosis of chronic pain condition is usually final. It means that everything that can be done is being done and there’s nothing more to do except try to control the pain.
Yes, we all have our moments. The pain does take its toll on everything including our moods. I get tired of being in agony. I get tired of being tired and I get tired of having to turn down certain activities because I know if I do it I will pay for it. For the most part, I’m okay. I have to remind myself daily to get up and moving and go take a walk.
The best thing a person who suffers chronic pain can do is rise above it and find things that can be done and do activities through the discomfort, especially walking.
I cannot stress enough the importance of movement. I have always told people that I go for walks regularly and I’m not sure if it’s in spite of the pain or to spite the pain but I always think that I’m telling the pain HA! Look what I can do even with you in my life.
As a friend or relative, be there, be understanding and be encouraging. We will always have pain but you can help us be positive, rise above it, and, in some ways, the positive endorphins can help reduce the feeling of pain even minimally.