Oh S.N.A.P.S. – How Outside and Social Factors Can Affect Pain
When dealing with pain we sometimes need to look beyond the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. We occasionally need to dive deeper than just looking at the muscles, nerves, tendons, discs, ligaments, and the other usual suspects for pain. People’s social factors and activities can play a major role in the reason as to why someone is having pain. So, what are these social factors that I look at? Well, I call them my S.N.A.P.S.
P: Physical Activity
S: Sleep, Social Interaction, and Stress
Now some people will ask, “how do these things affect my pain?”. I like to explain it like this: Let’s say you’re in a great mood, driving to a job you love, after getting a great night’s sleep when you get stuck in traffic. Now since everything is going well, that traffic doesn’t bother you and isn’t a big deal. But let’s say you’re hungover, got a terrible night sleep, driving to a job that you hate and stresses you out when you get stuck in traffic. Now that traffic is a big deal and becomes extremely irritating. The same thing happens with pain. Now let’s dive a little deeper into each part of the SNAPS.
Smoking can not only have an affect on pain but also other factors such as quality of sleep and physical activity which are two other factors which can contribute to chronic pain. A study from 2019 found that smokers tend experience greater pain intensity than non-smokers. The study also found that smokers have a poorer recovery and improvement from chronic pain.
Food and dietary habits can play a major role in pain in a number of different ways. Sugar, which triggers inflammation in our bodies, along with fat intake have been shown to increase chronic pain sensitivity along with a correlation to arthritis. On the flip side, changing ones diet can have a positive affect on pain. For example, one study found that by putting people on a plant based diet had a positive effect on reducing the chronic pain.
Alcohol intake can be one that people overlook and can sometimes be someone’s mechanism for helping to numb some of the pain in the short term. However, excessive or chronic alcohol consumption has been linked to increased pain sensitivity. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) can also cause neuropathies or nerve pain into someone’s arms and legs.
Physical activity is one factor that I focus heavily on and one that I usually try to help people with the most. Research has linked lack of physical activity to chronic pain along with countless other diseases and even cancer. (If you want to learn more about exercise and cancer you should go read my last blog!). Physical activity has also been shown to help reduce your risk of arthritis as well as help reduce pain from arthritis. Now you might ask, “I thought arthritis is wear and tear? So how can activity prevent it?”. Well, arthritis actually “isn’t wear and tear”. That’s a very poor terminology we’ve associated with arthritis. We know this now because every study that compares an active person to a sedentary person shows that the active person tends to have less arthritis and degeneration.
Sleep, Stress, and Social Interaction
Sleep, or lack thereof, has been shown to not only increase your pain intensity but also delay or hinder your ability to recover from injury or even exercise. Lack of sleep has also been linked to many other diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Stress can come in many different forms. Most people tend to experience financial stress but there are other forms of stress such as physical and mental. And not every form of stress is a bad thing! There are some good stresses such as working out for example. However, stress can delay recovery from pain and even stressing about the pain or movements can cause an unwarranted sensitivity to the pain or the movements that cause you pain. Social interaction can also be tied into stress. If someone experiences excess amounts of social stress this may also lead to increased pain sensitivities. At the same time pain can keep us from engaging in social interactions. For example, all of your friends are going for a hike today, but your back is bothering you too much to go with them. The pain is now pushing you towards isolation which can in turn have a major, negative impact on your mental health and pain.
With all this being said, it’s also not good to fixate on these things too much. That can cause an unhealthy behavior as well. It’s okay to go out and grab a beer with some friends or stay up late and maybe get a little less sleep than you should every now and then. I want you to go out and live life and have fun. My goal with this blog is to make people more aware of some of these factors and hopefully help them to avoid some of these issues and get them out of pain quicker.
As always, reach out to me if you have any questions, want to learn more, or want help with any of the social factors that were talked about in this blog.
Until next time,
Dr. Andrew Schneider DC, ATC