Chronic back pain greatly affects the quality of life of those who suffer it. 80-90% of people experience lower back pain at some point in their lives, and, for 5-10% of those people, pain becomes chronic. Since it is a widespread phenomenon, chronic back pain deserves a lot of attention.
Constant pain is difficult to deal with; it imposes limitations on your activity and is extremely unpleasant due to the simple fact that you hurt regularly. For many people with chronic pain, pain isn’t the only unpleasant symptom. Along with psychological and emotional symptoms, fatigue is common.
The Mayo Clinic defines fatigue as a state of weariness that diminishes your mental capacity and physical energy level. Many with fatigue feel unmotivated and unable to perform even simple tasks. Brief bouts of fatigue are normal; a stressful day at work or an overexerting activity is often the cause. However, fatigue can become chronic when the situation causing it persists.
Chronic Pain and Fatigue
Pain can cause fatigue both physically and emotionally. The main connection between pain and fatigue is stress. The body experiences stress when it is in pain and uses energy to keep functioning in spite of pain. Chronic pain tends to have a notable emotional impact on patients; depression and anxiety are common. This emotional stress leads to emotional fatigue, causing lack of motivation. The combination of emotional and physical fatigue can cause people to decrease activity, sometimes staying in bed for days. A lack of activity causes physical deconditioning, which can worsen chronic back pain and other health problems. Bed rest beyond 2 days significantly reduces muscle tone and cardiovascular health, two things needed to support and provide nutrients to the structures of the body.
The most obvious way to deal with pain-induced fatigue is to manage pain, but this isn’t always easy. The plethora of back pain causes makes diagnosis and treatment difficult. Conditions like fibromyalgia are still quite mysterious to the medical community and no sure-fire treatment exists for it.
Unlike pain medications that can actually make fatigue worse, alternative therapies can safely help to reduce both pain and fatigue. Those who have tried more conventional therapies to no avail should consider myofascial release, chiropractic care, massage therapy or acupuncture. These pain management therapies may be less conventional than pain medication, but they address possible sources of pain and work to cut it off at the root. See nccam.nih.gov for more information on complementary and alternative medicine for chronic pain, including studies.
Aside from managing pain, acknowledging the emotional link between pain and fatigue is necessary to treat it. Many doctors will simply recommend an antidepressant for pain-related fatigue, but there are non-drug alternatives. Cognitive behavioral therapy, for example, involves working through the perceptions and emotions associated with chronic pain. The result is often both reduced emotional and physical symptoms.
Finally, the age-old advice for managing fatigue is relevant. Getting sufficient sleep and eating a balanced diet can help lessen fatigue. It is a good idea to get your blood tested for vitamin deficiencies; many people with pain and fatigue are Vitamin D-deficient.
Chronic pain and fatigue are linked and, as such, should be addressed together in treatment. Taking a physical and mental approach to treating your condition will help you find relief faster.