The Link Between Pain and Fatigue

Pain can come in many forms. Whether it’s achy or acute, sharp or chronic, it is almost always unpleasant!

Pain is normal response to injury or illness, and in a healthy individual it will settle as the injury heals or the illness subsides.

Sometimes pain can be useful – it sends a message to the brain informing it of danger, (like when you accidentally touch something hot), or it can tell us to stop or slow down so we don’t cause damage.

As physios, pain is the number one symptom people come to us for, and we treat it using a variety of techniques and modalities.

We commonly hear from our patients who are experiencing pain, that they also find themselves fatigued and struggling to cope with the demands of everyday life.

What’s the link between pain and fatigue?

The link between pain and fatigue is well recognized.

One of the more obvious reasons for this is that pain can inevitably affect sleep. It keeps us awake, reducing the hours of shut-eye we get, and rely on, to function well.

Pain often ramps up at night as we are less distracted from it when at rest. During our busy waking hours there are lots of other things competing for our attention, so the focus is taken off the pain.

Wakefulness due to pain can lead to anxiety, which sets up a vicious cycle exhausting us even more.

When we’re in pain it also takes more effort to get through our day – tasks that we normally wouldn’t even think about, suddenly cause discomfort and require more time, concentration and tenacity to complete.

Sometimes pain will mean we have to adapt our biomechanics or way of doing things, which can overload and tire other muscles or joints not used to taking such a load.

Pain will hinder our ability to be active, which in turn can make us feel sluggish, demotivated and tired.

Medicine can be crucial to help manage pain, and smart use of it enables us to get through our day. But again, fatigue can be the spin off as some pain medication causes drowsiness or other unwanted side effects.

When pain is chronic and ongoing, as is the case for some arthritis and autoimmune sufferers, the body is in a state of constant stress and exposure to inflammatory process. The result? You got it – fatigue.

How to combat pain-induced fatigue

Prioritise your day

Which tasks really need to be completed? Focus your energy on these, and for the time being, let go of anything that can wait till you’re feeling better.

Pace yourself

Allow more time to complete tasks and give yourself a break between tasks, or at least intersperse more physical jobs with those more sedentary.

Check your posture

Are you looking after your back and joints? Good biomechanics means less energy expenditure and pain.

Set yourself up for a good night sleep

Limit alcohol, screen time, caffeine, sugar and heavy conversations in the hours leading up to bed. Consider taking herbal sleep support, and schedule pain relief so it’ll work while you’re nodding off.

Eat a nutritious well-balanced diet

Ensure your body is getting the nutrients it needs for optimal energy. Avoid foods known for their inflammatory effects (sugar, processed carbohydrates, alcohol).

Breathe!

It might sound simple, but taking time out of your day to focus on your breathing pattern mindfully, can help alleviate stress associated with pain and fatigue, and make you feel more energized.

If pain and fatigue is an issue for you, pay us a visit and together we can investigate how to improve and manage your symptoms.