Do you struggle with chronic pain? Has exhaustion sapped your mojo? Have you wondered if these two problems are interlinked? (They are!)
Chronic pain and fatigue often go hand in hand. But before we dive into why, and give you evidence-based advice on how to cope, let’s look at the definitions to ensure we’re on the same page.
Chronic pain is pain that, “Lasts beyond normal healing time after injury or illness — generally 3 to 6 months.” It is pain that just keeps going. While the definition is simple, the process is not. There are a range of complex physical and psychological factors involved.
Long-term fatigue is also, by definition, chronic in nature; it, too, just keeps going. Research published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management noted that:
Chronic fatigue… has been described as a sustained sense of whole-body exhaustion that is disproportionate to the level of physical exertion and is not relieved by rest.
This kind of depletion has profound consequences. Tiredness can strike without physical exertion and is not remedied by a good sleep. This can lead to a poorer quality of life.
A self-perpetuating cycle can also brew: pain worsens fatigue, fatigue leads to further pain, ad nauseam.
This raises an important question…
Can Chronic Pain Cause Fatigue?
It’s not uncommon for our clients to ask the question, “Can chronic pain cause fatigue?” But in reality they are seeking validation. Many already know. Of course it can. While health professionals can gloss over, ignore, or even not know about this fact, people with long-term pain do.
So how can chronic pain cause fatigue?
When you hurt yourself — and even when you are simply at risk of injury — your body changes to ramp up protection and healing. This happens to keep you as safe as possible. The main system in control of these changes is called the sympathetic system; more commonly called the “fight or flight” or stress response.
In health, energy is required to maintain vitality. Additional energy is needed to fend off a threat. So, activation of the stress system increases energy expenditure. Think of this like the heightened fuel consumption that occurs when you push the accelerator pedal to the floor. Once the threat has passed, the figurative pedal can be released. This allows the body to revert to its normal baseline. To potter along at a steady pace.
However, when the threat doesn’t pass — when the pain continues — the human “vehicle” can run low on fuel. After some time the tank empties and the engine begins to splutter. This low energy (fuel) may cause fatigue.
There are also a range of other factors…
Chronic pain is linked to mental illness. Depression and anxiety are known to cause fatigue.
Sleep disorders are more common in people with long-term discomfort. Not surprising when you consider how hard it can be to find a comfy position. Poor slumber may then increase levels of stress and pain, contributing to a vicious cycle.
Strong pain can also limit exercise, resulting in a reduction in muscle mass and strength. This loss of muscular support can exacerbate soreness and contribute to fatigue.
Obesity can also occur as pain mounts, insomnia strikes, and energy levels fall. Being significantly overweight then adds to discomfort and tiredness.
It’s a complicated picture, but there is hope.
How to Cope with Chronic Pain and Fatigue
Living with chronic pain and fatigue can sometimes feel overwhelming. We see how this combination affects our clients when they begin their journey with us. Stressed, exhausted, sore.
Yet, with the right approaches life can improve. Pain reduction, even elimination, is possible. Your zest for life can return. Kindness and compassion mixed with evidence-based care and support provide the best way forward.
The approaches we encourage include…
A focus on mental health
Mental illness, pain, and fatigue are intimately linked. This makes improving your mental health crucial.
Treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and psychodynamic therapies can make an incredible difference.
Opt for physical therapy
Physical therapy is a science-backed treatment modality provided by degree-qualified health professionals. The process involves evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment that aims to restore function and reduce discomfort.
This approach has helped millions of people around the world to recover from pain and its side effects. With advancements in technology, treatments can now be provided in-clinic or virtually.
Consider proven supplements and medication that can help chronic pain and fatigue
The right supplements and medications can make a positive difference for both chronic pain and exhaustion. For example…
Omega-3 fatty acids
An article published in the journal, Pain, found that omega-3 fatty acids supplementation can soothe pain. This healthy fat “reduces patient reported joint pain intensity, minutes of morning stiffness, number of painful and/or tender joints, and NSAID [non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug] consumption.” Omega-3s may also support mental health.
Medications often form the go-to approach for pain relief. While pharmaceuticals drugs can be important in pain management, they can cause side effects. It’s important to speak to your doctor if you experience any reactions. We also encourage you to be involved when making any decision that affects you.
Choose a healthy lifestyle
A healthy lifestyle is key to well being. Here are our top three steps…
1. Prioritize sufficient sleep. This might require better pain relief and measures to calm your mind, like mindfulness and meditation.
2. Exercise regularly. Gentle activity is enough. If you struggle to exercise, try going to a pool. The support from the water often makes this approach more comfortable for those with ongoing pain.
3. Follow a healthy food plan. Eat whole foods. Choose produce rich in nutrients. For example, B vitamins, omega 3 fats, magnesium, and zinc are important to soothe stress and pain. Avoid trans fats and refined sugars.
Seek professional support
Living with chronic pain and fatigue isn’t easy. But you don’t have to go it alone. Having a chronic pain expert in your team — someone who’s knowledgeable about the latest research, harnesses the power of cutting edge technology to improve your results, and is invested in your progress — will make a profound difference.
At XR.Health, we’ve been successfully treating clients with chronic pain and fatigue for years. By combining new pain management approaches with evidence-based care and virtual reality technology, you will receive personalized therapy in the comfort and safety of your home. Never commute again, or uncomfortably dally in a practitioner’s waiting room.
If you’re ready to experience respite from relentless pain and exhaustion — to begin taking your life back — we’re here for you. Learn more about our advanced Chronic Pain Treatment approach now.