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Will Chronic Pain Damage My Brain?

Here we talk in layman's terms about how untreated pain can harm your brain and my personal experiences.

By Audra SpanglerPublished 3 months ago 3 min read
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Will Chronic Pain Damage My Brain?
Photo by Gaspar Uhas on Unsplash

When my cognitive functions started to decline I was very scared. I thought perhaps the concussions were catching up to me, I read that, Post-concussion symptoms can last for weeks, months, or even years after the concussive event.

Then, I stumbled on the idea that the untreated pain could be causing some of my symptoms. As stated in an article from Practical Pain Management;

A number of investigators — from a variety of institutions, using a variety of techniques — have documented loss of brain tissue in chronic pain patients, including those with chronic headaches, fibromyalgia, back pain, and irritable bowel syndrome.

They also state that the shrinkage was accompanied by only minimal neuronal loss. It is believed that this damage could be reversible.

This idea shook me to the core.

Was my AS actually destroying my brain?

For better context, let me tell you just a tad about my journey with AS.

I have been in excruciating pain since I was around 8 years old. The adults in my life convinced me that this pain was normal and that I was just the only one complaining about it.

I had days when my hands wouldn't work, my finger would lock closed or open. I had days when I couldn't lift my arms and just wore the T-shirt that I slept in to school because I could change it. But, I had many days that were low pain, and I adapted.

When I started sports I was constantly hurting, limping, and in so much pain I would break down crying. My friends grew concerned and asked me about it often. This is when I realized, these are not normal pains!

Again the adults in my life tried to convince me I was fine and there was nothing that needed to be done about it.

Due to these experiences, and lack of access to healthcare, I never really tried to get help. I just suffered. I bought a cane to help me get around on those really bad days and prayed that I would be able to hold a job. I successfully did so until around age 28.

Did all this untreated pain put me on the edge of dementia?

My memory issues were getting scary. Holding an idea in my head was exceedingly difficult and forgetting everyone's name had become normal. I can’t even remember important people from my past. Everything was slipping away.

Time to do some research!

The more I read, the more I realized I needed treatment for my chronic pain. I surmised that a few symptoms lined up with the concussions but the pain had to be the main cause of this.

Here are a few of the articles that I found particularly interesting;

Chronic back pain is associated with decreased prefrontal and thalamic gray matter density

Chronic Pain Harms The Brain

Long-Term Consequences of Chronic Pain: Mounting Evidence for Pain as a Neurological Disease and Parallels with Other Chronic Disease States

Now what?

I decided to prioritize my health and treat my pain. These goals were not easy to achieve and are still a daily struggle.

With treatments, vitamins, and a healthy diet I am able to do things like write, simple math equations, and maybe even remember a few names.

I try to keep my brain active. Crosswords and word games are my favorite ways to do this. Researching interesting topics always gets me going too. I am sure it will be different for everyone but, simple tasks and games really can help.

My conclusion is that keeping myself in good spirits, treating my pain, and staying active mentally and physically is the key. This will not only help prevent any additional issues but also perhaps undo the damage that may have been done in the past.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or any type of medical professional. This is all written from the perspective of someone with Ankylosing Spondylitis, who has done a lot of reading and research on why, or how, a body could be in so much pain and not be actively dying.

Questions and comments are always welcome!

science
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About the Creator

Audra Spangler

Writer, snowboarder, gamer, adventurer. AS warrior and Spoonie.

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