How Pain Can Affect Your Emotional Well Being

Tips and Tricks of Massage Therapy
By: Julie Keating

If you are someone who has never had to live in chronic pain, it can be hard to imagine how it truly touches every part of who you are and diminishes your quality of life. When you have constant pain, it is like a nagging that never goes away, surrounded by frustration that traditional therapies either don’t work or have adverse side effects that leave you wondering which is worse. Chronic pain, in scientific terms, is classified as any pain that lasts for more than three months. In just three months, it can take an extreme toll on not just your physical health, but your mental health as well.

Anxiety, Low Mood, and Depression

Chronic pain affects not just the physical area where we experience it; it affects our brain and overall mood as well. Being in constant pain takes a toll on us emotionally, and when you pair that with physical limitations, it can lead to mood changes and other emotional issues. Just knowing that your pain is not going to go away and the frustration of not finding anything to alleviate it is exhausting. And just the clinical label of “chronic” can lead to a feeling of helplessness that the pain will never go away.

Effects on Your Work Life

Studies show that as many as 50.2 million American adults experience chronic pain daily. That equals one in five people in the US who have limited function due to pain. When you live in chronic pain, it can affect your ability to work, both physically and mentally. Being preoccupied with pain can reduce your attention span and make it nearly impossible to concentrate on tasks. Many people with chronic pain complain of not being able to function mentally and be as attentive as they once were. And if it is severe enough, it can render someone unable to work, which has a cascading effect on their social life and economic status, only further exacerbating the situation.

Social Isolation

People who live in constant pain often isolate themselves. Since they can’t really enjoy the things they used to participate in, they often shut themselves in and leave the world out. The more people do this, the more isolating it can be. Not being involved in things you used to be, quitting hobbies and activities that you love, and not visiting with others only leads to being depressed and feelings of hopelessness that things aren’t going to get any better. Social isolation is one of the biggest factors in depression, and when you combine it with the pain experience, it is easy to see why anxiety and depression are so highly correlated with chronic pain.


Unfortunately, being in pain teaches the body to experience pain. When you are in chronic pain, you tend to focus more intently on the pain itself, which leads to a condition called catastrophization, where you worry obsessively about pain to the extent that it becomes more important than anything else in life. Fears of being injured more and fear of increased pain often lead people to reduce their actions further and limit their activities, only perpetuating disability.

Brain Changes

Chronic pain isn’t just in a person’s head: the pain actually changes the structure of a person’s brain. Long-term pain has been shown to decrease the amount of gray matter in the brain, which is responsible for learning, thought processing, memory, coordination, and motor control. That can lead to a person having a hard time with simple decision-making. Studies have shown that patients with chronic pain had as much as 11% more gray matter loss from year to year than those without pain. That translates into a brain aging as much as 10 to 20 years throughout just one year. And the longer a person experiences chronic pain, the more gray matter they lose. 

Massage As A Viable Treatment

The good news is that studies show that effective treatment for chronic pain can reverse many of the effects that it has on the brain and body. But the longer that you go without treatment, the less reversible it is. Massage has been proven to decrease chronic pain by reducing tension and stress. The physiological effects of massage are evident immediately and have cumulative long-term effects that help to stop the cycle of chronic pain and its effects on a person’s quality of life. It has also been shown as a viable aid to reduce cancer-related fatigue, stress, tension, sleep disorders, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, and back pain. 

Our mission is to help our patients by providing alternative treatments alongside traditional ones to increase their quality of life and enhance their overall well-being. If you are experiencing pain, schedule your massage appointment today!