THE BLOG
10/18/2014 11:26 pm ET Updated Dec 18, 2014

Cognitive Function and Its Impact on Chronic Pain

We all know that pain can cause all kinds of issues with our brain function, including making it hard for us to think or behave as we used to behave prior to the onset of chronic pain. But some research now suggests that how we think and how our brain function is prior to a trauma/surgical event can predict our risks for the occurrence of chronic pain or not (1).

A study conducted by Nadine Attal and her team suggests that those who have problems with their brain's ability in attention, memory or other executive functions may have more issues with chronic pain after surgeries (1).

In her study, 189 people ranging between 18 years old to 85 years old were evaluated before and after surgery for their brain's ability in the categories of attention, memory and executive functioning. The baseline cognitive function was measured before surgery and again about a year after surgery. The patients either had breast cancer surgery or knee replacement surgery for osteoarthritis. Taking into consideration of prior issues of depression, anxiety or pain before surgery, there were still a suggestion from the study that the brain's ability in these categories of cognitive functioning had some impact on whether a patient ended up with chronic pain or not. Essentially, those with cognitive deficits seemed to have higher rates of chronic pain after the surgeries (1).

So, what does this tell us?

First, that pain doesn't just affect our brain function but that our brain function can in actuality affect our pain levels or issues.

Second, that perhaps post-surgical rehabilitation as well as pre-operative preparations should potentially include some level of cognitive rehabilitation as well to help optimize the chance of preventing chronic pain after a procedure.

Clearly more research needs to be done to further help us understand chronic pain, which afflicts so many of the types of patients who come seeking help from me in my integrative medicine clinic in San Jose, California. But I also think that this again reiterates the fact that our health is not one dimensional.

In integrative medicine, we focus on the concept that everything affects everything in any given person's body. Meaning how we feel, what we think, what we do, what we eat, how we sleep, and what we take as therapeutic options... all of that plus more affects our overall health. So, in this study, we again see that even how we think and the level of our cognitive capabilities may have something to do with whether we end up with chronic pain after a surgical procedure.

So, doesn't it behoove us to always make an effort to keep as many aspects of ourselves as healthy as possible?

Moving forward, I hope that my readers will keep in mind that our health is what we make of it. Taking ownership of that is important. Since there is such a thing as lifestyle changes or cognitive rehabilitation, what we think we are given can always in some way be altered for the better even if it's in some small way... but even small improvements can lead to huge health benefits.
So take some time today and every day to keep your mind active and your body active, no matter your age.

I sincerely hope you won't have to undergo any surgeries in the near or far future. But if you do, apparently, there's a chance that by keeping your mind sharp, you might be able to keep chronic pain far out of your reach... exactly where you want it to be.

Reference:

1. Attal N, Masselin-Dubois A, Martinez V, Jayr C, Albi A, Fermanian J, Bouhassira D, Baudic S. Does cognitive functioning predict chronic pain? Results from a prospective surgical cohort. Brain. 2014 Mar; 137(Pt 3):904-17.