Every chiropractor knows how much pain can disrupt the life of the person suffering from it. “Hurting” is just the tip of the iceberg. Truth is that when pain sits around for a long time, it disrupts all processes, especially mental ones. These facts have now been disclosed by a new study out of Northwestern University in Chicago.

The study looked at 30 people–15 with chronic low back pain and 15 that were pain-free. Each person was hooked up to a brain scan, a functional MRI, and was asked to perform a simple mental task–tracking a moving bar on a computer screen. The idea was to study a brain process called the default mode, an automatic setting of the brain of healthy people that controls functions when the brain is at rest–that is, when it is not actively processing information.

In healthy people performing a mental task, the default mode quiets down. But not in people suffering from chronic pain (lasting longer than six months was considered chronic in this study); in these people a region of the frontal cortex associated with emotion was constantly active, even during a routine mental task (check out the cool video, here). This constant cortical activity of the brain actually disrupted the normal brain equilibrium. Whoa!

Again, no surprise to chiropractors. But I’ll bet it’s no surprise to anyone who’s ever been in chronic pain, either. I’ve personally experienced it on both ends; as a doctor of chiropractic, I see the effects of chronic pain on people on a daily basis; as someone who has had my fair share, I know how difficult it is to do anything when in constant pain. Heck, I could barely make simple decisions when my tooth cracked. And with appendicitis–forget it! All I could do was moan.

Researchers of this latest pain study say that disruptions in the default network might explain why pain patients have problems with attention, sleep disturbances and even depression. Yeah, that sounds right. And according to the study authors, “These findings suggest that the brain of a chronic pain patient is not simply a healthy brain processing pain information but rather it is altered by the persistent pain in a manner reminiscent of other neurological conditions associated with cognitive impairments.”

The take home lesson here: Don’t let pain sit–get it taken care of right away. Go see a chiropractor, an acupuncturist, a massage therapist, or any practitioner that can help you. Perhaps you need to exercise, perhaps you need eye glasses–find out the cause of your pain and do something about it. Don’t just accept it as “getting older” or the unfortunate reality of any particular illness–even cancer patients can find some relief in alternative health methods like meditation, yoga, chiropractic and massage. So don’t give up, and don’t let it wait to go away on its own–take care of your body and address your pain today; and get back to living the life you love to live.

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