Persistent pain affects over two fifths of the UK. This pain can manifest itself in anyone at any point in our lives, depending on environmental and genetic factors. It’s important to be aware of the risk-factors that make you more likely to develop this pain so you can attempt to avoid or manage it.
Here, Our Health Hub shares five risk-factors that are making you more likely to develop persistent pain:
▪ Previous injury/physical trauma – When we are injured our bodies have several mechanisms that help immediately. If we fall and break a bone, we get a cast to hold the broken bone in place until it heals over weeks. If the bone does not heal properly then it can affect the muscles and nerves surrounding the bone and make movement uncomfortable or painful. If movement is painful then we adapt how we move, changing how our muscles usually work which can cause further discomfort or pain to avoid the first instance of pain. Unless we take steps to correct an imbalance in the body by targeting the root cause then persistent pain can develop due to changes in our nervous system that affect pain sensitivity.
▪ Genetics – Although our genetics are not something we can directly control, trying to stay as active as possible is vital for maintaining strength and flexibility. Even if you have a family history of rheumatoid arthritis, migraines, high blood pressure, diabetes or one of many other inheritable conditions that can predispose you to developing persistent pain, keeping your body strong and able to move well will always be needed to keep up with the demands of daily life.
▪ Emotions – A lot of people suffer from anxiety and depression in relation to persistent pain. Sometimes anxiety and depression follow on from developing chronic pain and other times low mood and anxiety precede it. Anxiety and depression can heighten pain response or perception, increase muscle tension and increase the fear of pain getting worse. Avoiding activities out of fear can lead to deconditioning of our muscles. If our muscles become weak then it increases the likelihood of injuring ourselves. Understanding why we feel afraid of pain can be a vital step in challenging and overcoming persistent pain.
▪ Poor sleep and persistent pain – There is a complex relationship between persistent pain and poor sleep. Poor sleep can increase pain perception by lowering the body’s pain threshold. Persistent pain can cause poor sleep because of not being able to get comfortable or being woken up throughout the night which can disrupt sleeping patterns.
▪ Ageing – As we get older, metabolic processes slow down. Bones become more brittle and healing can take longer. Muscle strength declines more quickly and exercise tolerance can decrease if there is a gradual decline in activity levels. Persistent pain can manifest when muscles and joints are unable to work as efficiently as they did before. New patterns of movement develop to try and relieve pain, but this can result in weakened joints adding additional strain. However, if we stay as active as possible, we can mitigate potential causes of persistent pain that can arise as a result of age-related change.