Pain Can Make You Ill

As well as just being, well, a pain, chronic pain can make you ill. I saw Super Physio last week and we were actually discussing how well everything was going with my body. This might sound like I'm bragging, but believe me, there have been many more visits when the discussion was quite the opposite. It's hard for me to believe how well things are going, in fact. I've now gone to yoga once a week for seven weeks straight with no shoulder/neck problems (which is a world record for me at this point) and my back is pain free again.

As SP and I chatted, we were marveling at the fact that I hadn't been ill for ages (apart from a sore throat a few weeks ago that I can't be sure wasn't caused by getting the flu shot!). And she pointed out to me that another contributor to my better general health – apart from the tonsils coming out – is likely to be my lack of chronic pain.

Chronic pain is an ugly, nasty thing. First, it makes you very cranky. I read a posting on Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project some time ago and made a note of it because it really struck a chord with me. It's called 7 Tips For Dealing With A Sweetheart Who Is Constantly Crabby. Tip #6 is: Is your sweetheart crabby due to chronic pain?

I'm sure Future Hub could have used some commiseration when he was dealing with me in a lot of pain (I am, by the way, so grateful for his support over the last five years, particularly when things were really bad – I probably don't tell him that enough).

Rubin says:

I had excruciating back pain that was substantially relieved after I saw the physical therapist that my father-in-law had been recommending for months. Of course, sadly, chronic pain often doesn’t have an easy solution. But whatever the problem is, it’s worth trying to address it. Sometimes we need a little push to seek help.

I am cheered by the fact that she saw a physiotherapist (physical therapist in American English) who helped her. As we know, there are lots of practitioners out there who don't help people and, I believe, compound the problem so much more because patients lose faith and stop looking for someone who can help them.

But pain has physiological effects on the body as well. It took me forever to find, but I finally located a good article on that explains the physiological effects of unrelieved pain, in quite a great deal of technical detail. From what I can understand of it, pain is a stressor that can threaten our body's homeostatic state. This is useful and potentially life-saving, at first (as in, we stay still and rest). However, if the stress response is allowed to continue it can have harmful effects on multiple systems of the body.

The endocrine and nervous system work together to produce a variety of hormones (including adrenaline, cortisol and glucagon) in response to pain that are secreted into the bloodstream. These hormones have effects on all the systems of our body and can cause, among other things, increased heart rate and blood pressure, impaired gastrointestinal function, respiratory dysfunction, retention of sodium and water, depression of the immune system and an increase in anxiety.

No wonder things are so much better for me these days.

Bottom line is if you're experiencing chronic pain you should not ignore it. I know how hard it is to find help, but that's no reason to stop trying. Your body (and your loved ones) will thank you for it.

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