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Chronic Pain Syndrome & The Effect On The Brain

Chronic pain syndrome is a difficult condition to live with, affecting everything from activity levels and ability to work, to personal relationships and emotional states. As well as this, chronic pain syndrome is also known to have a negative impact on the brain, affecting the way it works and functions. In this blog, we discuss exactly how chronic pain affects the brain and what this means for sufferers.

Chronic pain has a profound effect on the brain. Our brain is the hub of our nervous system, made up of 100 billion nerve cells. We rely on it to process what we are experiencing and help us react accordingly. However, when acute pain shifts to chronic pain, it can cause marked changes in brain activity and the way the brain works.

This means that untreated or undertreated pain exposes chronic pain sufferers to more than just intensifying levels of discomfort. It can also cause damage to the brain, while having an affect on a person’s mental abilities.

The challenge of developing treatments for chronic pain syndrome has led to considerable research on the brain’s role in the condition. Recent studies have discovered that the areas of the brain involved with processing acute pain differ to those that process chronic pain. In fact, multiple research studies have confirmed that chronic pain does not affect a singular region of the brain; instead, it results in changes to many areas. For example:

  • Chronic pain shrinks the brain’s grey matter by as much as 11% a year. It is believed that chronic pain sufferers experience this shrinkage because the nerves involved in communication are continually firing, and this constant activity causes the brain to rewire itself as a form of protection.
  • Chronic pain shrinks the prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain regulates emotions, personality expression and social behaviour. Research shows that people with chronic pain have constant, excessive activity in the brain nerves within this area, which causes the neurons to die prematurely. Fear, worry and anxiety tend to become more pronounced in people with chronic pain as the loss of prefrontal cortex causes inability to control these feelings.
  • Chronic pain causes the thalamus to remain open. The thalamus – often described as ‘the border of the brain’ – acts as a gateway between the spinal cord and higher brain centres. When you sustain an acute injury, the thalamus opens to pass information from the affected parts of the body to the brain. When the injury is healed, this border closes once again. In people with chronic pain syndrome, the thalamus remains open and every nerve signal that crosses it gets intensified, resulting in heightened pain.
  • Chronic pain leads to a smaller hippocampus. The hippocampus is a part of the brain that helps to regulate emotional responses and is associated with learning and memory processing. People with chronic pain syndrome show a decreased volume in this part of the brain, which can lead to increased anxiety as well as learning and memory problems.

The more positive news is that, while the effect of chronic pain syndrome on the brain may seem overwhelming, research indicates that brain changes are not necessarily permanent and are reversible when patients receive appropriate treatment. The key is to receive effective treatment for chronic pain as early as possible to avoid brain changes in the first place.

*While the team here at Brian Barr are experienced in claiming compensation for those who suffer from chronic pain syndrome as a result of an accident, it is important to remember that we are not medical experts, which is why we recommend discussing everything from symptoms to treatments with your doctor.

We do not endorse any research, studies or sources mentioned within our blogs and comments. Furthermore, we do not endorse any medical advice provided, and would strongly recommend anyone seeking medical advice to contact their local healthcare provider.

11 responses to “Chronic Pain Syndrome & The Effect On The Brain

  1. I suffered for about 8 months with undiagnosed chronic gall bladder disease..my sleep was severely interrupted..attacks could only be controlled by very hot bath water submersion..Drs. were unsure of cause and perfomed 3 seperate tests to no avail..4th test was very specific to gall bladder function..( at my insistance) and was found to be less than 15% function..they said..you’re a very sick man..it’s got to be removed..meanwhile my new bride and i never consumated our marriage & the bickering lead to my leaving the home..waiting for divorce papers and im stunned..devastated..HELP!

  2. I suffered with undiagnosed chronic gall bladder disease for nearly a year..it made me a miserable person..short tempered confused thoughts poor judgement..may have cost me my best friend and mate..my wife…lack of sleep compounded by bph and diverticulitis made life very difficult for myself & loved ones

  3. I had a tumor on my spinal cord, exactly in the middle back.
    operated 3 and Half years back. still i am facing the chronicle pain, surviving with tablets. without tablets horrible to manage.
    some times pain goes to my head and i cant explain in words.
    please help.

  4. My husband had severe back pain after an injury. It changed him completely even though he denies it. He had corrective surgery last year but he is back to being mean and hurtful. A trait that surfaced after the injury and when he had severe pain. He is uncaring and arrogant and with me has no filter with what he says. Is this normal despite the corrective surgery? He had the pain for almost 5 years and it almost tore our family apart. Now I think the damage had been done. I have small kids but the meanness is too much.

  5. It is so sad when people are suffering from any illnesses that could hinder them to function properly. It is only a miracle that could keep the people suffering from Chronic Pain Syndrome or any illnesses to survive. And it is only God who can do miracles. All we can do is only pray, believe and claim healing in Jesus Name. The doctors are there to do the best they could, they could try everything medically speaking. Nobody could extend the lives of people. It is all up to God. We can only do our best. May God have mercy on us. Amen.

  6. Hi Natasha
    Sorry to hear of your plight but I fully understand.. I hope you have the time, courage and the guidance to build up a reservoir of spirituality within you. I see that as the only way all of you can come as winners in the long run.
    (Bdw i am no medic.) when brain cells change with old age or sickness it makes the patient become mean… but they don’t intend to be mean. They are very much in need of help…and they are unable to evaluate their actions on others who are doing everything..the babies, sick and old people Are indeed helpless as they cannot look after themselves
    My mother who was a very sweet person changed into a totally different person but by sheer luck we discovered there was too much fluid in the brain and also needed dopamine (feel good hormone) . After one year of dopamine she’s back to being her old sweet self. so perhaps you can consult a neurophysician

  7. I had been struck in the back of the head while unloading a trailer of its merchandise. What struck the back of my head was a 32 inch flat screen television. From this I now have seizures, loss of sensation in my left arm, and have been diagnosed with chronic pain. My blood pressure is unusually high all the time, what little I can do is exhausting, I get fatigued quickly and I’m practically losing my mind to pain. I received an occipital nerve block, yet it does not take the pain away from my neck, nor my spine. Normal activities are impossible, family outings are non existant, doing work I used to do is impossible. My lifting weight limit is 35 lbs for only 10 minutes every two hours and repetitious lifting with one hand is 5 lb for 2 1/2 hours a day. It’s getting to my mind that I am permanent partial disabled.

  8. I have had chronic pain for five years now. I just keep getting all the wonderful medications. I’m on seven. I’m 44. On disability. For good. Not my plan! Lost all my friends I have no life I have chronic pain stress anxiety double depression ptsd…etc.
    I have five claim #’s for wsib. The lawyer called me by the way but I was looking for someone to help because of the stress. I couldn’t handle it all after being made to leave in short term. My work fired my fiancé three months later, the financial situation we were in was unbelievable and I had no where to turn. My daughter left to her dads, sold the house before the bank took it, then started the pinched nerves in my neck. Which made my shoulder worse. Thought I hurt it at home. My shoulder but wear and tear shown in mris say otherwise. Lawyer helped with insurance when constantly at to file for disability. When I do I get stuck with a $20,000 bill!!! Like that helped. Now I find out after five years and looking for where nerves are pinching.. I need back surgery! Last resort surgery!!! I miss my life. I just want to be happy again. Now … how can I be after my edible settlement is going to my lawyer!! I wanted to own my own home again. Have someone to love me unconditionally…. not sign up for cheat and meets. I still love sex! I’m still trying everyday to look good even if he notices everything else first. Right?? Or am I completely screwed up??

    1. Hi,

      I am sorry to hear of your difficult situation. Living with chronic pain isn’t easy at the best of times and having financial difficulties on top of that can really make it difficult. We would like to see if we are able to assist you in some way, so please give us a call on 0161 737 9248 to speak to one of our experienced solicitors.

      Best wishes,

      Yossi at Brian Barr Solicitors

  9. I suffered from chronic pain due to a neck injury while having 5 knee surgeries in less than 3 years. Last surgery was a full replacement at age 41. My brain was fried after 7 years in so much pain. Now, 5 years later I’m much better. Why? cyber scan! It literally saved my life. The clouds parted and my gray existence of life was colorful again.
    I started on cyber skin just weeks after my knee replacement. I really wanted not to get my second knee replacement and I would do anything to not go through that surgery again. It was not easy with all my issues to go through cyber scan. The first few months were difficult. But I knew deep down this was going to work. It did! My brain is so much better too.
    Cyber scan was founded in Germany and is how the Germans heal. It’s been in the United States for around 10 years and has been FDA approved. Not that it matters to me. I highly recommend anybody with chronic pain to look into cyber scan -teslas theory. I cannot only help people with chronic pain but cancer, PTSD, depression, and many other illnesses. 2 years ago I was exposed to mold in the house that was over 100 years old and Cyber scan really helped me get through and over it all. I’m highly sensitive due to having auto immune disease. I’m so very happy that I was party of getting it into our community and hearing about all the success for others.????

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