How PAIN affects your Brain!

Did you know that chronic pain can cause worsened pain over time? It can cause problems with memory, knowledge, concentration, etc. I feared senility or early Alzheimer's. After reading this article, I have the answer. Pain affects our brain! I used to call it painfog, or fibrofog, but it's actually more than that. Interesting article!

"Chronic pain vs. the brain: And the loser is..." From Psychology Today Magazine:

Chronic Pain versus the Brain: And the Loser Is...

We need to tear up those newly paved routes before the cement hardens.
Published on August 26, 2008 by Dr. Mark Borigini, M.D. in Overcoming Pain

How does a person become a "chronic pain patient"?

That label, chronic pain patient, can often lead to prejudice on the part of the health care profession. This prejudice can be manifested as chronic pain patients being treated as simply drug-seekers and/or stigmatized as individuals better left to psychiatric intervention.

Unfortunately, psychiatrists and psychologists tend to become very frustrated with those who experience and (dare I say it) seek help for the conditions which so often result from experiencing chronic pain.

A study was published earlier this year in the "Journal of Neuroscience" which concluded that chronic pain has a pronounced and pervasive impact on overall brain function. This impact would appear to explain the common cognitive and behavioral stigmata noted in those patients suffering from chronic pain.

The researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to demonstrate that individuals with chronic back pain had alterations in the functional connectivity of the cortical regions compared to those individuals not suffering from chronic pain. Interestingly, these areas of the brain are unrelated to pain. And this altered brain function leads to additional and unwelcome diagnoses, such as depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and decision-making difficulties.

In the healthy brain, all the regions exist in a state of equilibrium. When one region is active, the others become quiet. In contrast, those with chronic pain experience continued activity in the frontal part of the cortex of the brain associated with emotion. These are disturbances of the brain not directly associated with the sensation of pain.

This added brain activity occurs through the firing of the brain cells, known as neurons. When these neurons fire too much they actually change their connections, paving new routes so to speak And depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances and cognitive dysfunction become a "part" of the chronic pain patient.

It is self-evident that these co-morbidities can be for the chronic pain patient as debilitating as the pain itself-if not more so as time goes on and life becomes more difficult for an individual patient.

Pain appears to tax the brain, "firing up" areas which are usually quiet: the perception of pain has an irritating effect which does more than just irritate. The MRI data demonstrates this.

It would appear that these results indicate a need for early and aggressive treatment of pain. This may favorably modulate the discomfort, and thus forestall the onset of depression, sleep disturbance and cognitive impairment.

Perhaps through concerted treatment by pain specialists and mental health specialists those malignant brain activities can be prevented from becoming established impairments.

We need to tear up those newly paved routes before the cement hardens.

Best Wishes!


I have not read this article Sheila, but you are absolutely on the right track. Long term moderate to severe pain is the enemy of our brain. This is why treating pain aggresively is so important. So many doctors are not aware of this and refuse to treat severe chronic pain as it should be treated. thankfully I found a doctor/doctors early on who were highly trained in this area. I hope you too have found a good doctor who is helping you with this issue. Early onset dementia is very real, and does not need to happen if pain is treated in proper way.

Well I'm glad I put this article here almost a year ago, because right now I find myself looking for more answers about what severe chronic pain is doing to my brain, and why it is creating MORE pain. It helped me remind myself that my forgetfulness is not just a laziness or something, but actual damage from the pain. So maybe I will be more patient with myself. Seems we have to learn these things again and again for them to stick with us.

Kind regards to all who are in severe, constant pain,


I agree with aggressive treatment of pain. It's just that I haven't found any opioid that does not shut down the receptors and cause greater problems in the long-term. I know that researchers are working on ways to keep the receptors open in the presence of opioid therapy but so far as I know they have no answers.

I definitely note an almost completely clearly of my mind when I took hydrocodone at the beginning, but it's very short-acting and over a period of a few weeks the effect is 50% less, then 25% less, etc. Any suggestions?

Thanks for the research article. P.S. I do not mean to suggest that long-term opiods are hopeless for anyone because of tolerance, just a word of caution though. Maybe they should be used more sporadically even though the pain is chronic?? I don't know.