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Cutting Through Chronic Pain’s “Brain Fog”

Posted On: 02-21-2020
Cutting Through Chronic Pain’s “Brain Fog”
Does chronic pain make it harder for you to concentrate? Many patient with chronic pain notice that they are more forgetful or “fuzzy” when they are experiencing pain—in fact, it’s especially common in patients with fibromyalgia but can also be experienced by patients with chronic migraines, chronic back pain, diabetic neuropathy, and complex regional pain syndrome. This is known as cognitive dysfunction but is more commonly called “brain fog.”

Brain fog can affect your problem solving, decision making, attention, memory, and your ability to learn and retain information. You might notice that you:

  • Have trouble deciding which words to use in a conversation
  • Are unable to concentrate
  • Have trouble staying on task
  • Are forgetting things (ranging from minor to significant)
  • Cannot organize your thoughts
  • Cannot adapt to change effectively
  • Experience general mental cloudiness

Physical pain isn’t the only culprit of brain fog. Patients with depression, anxiety, and insomnia can also experience it.

Researchers are working on determining the exact cause of brain fog. One explanation is that a brain dealing with pain is in overdrive—unable to properly rest, store information, or see through the “noise.” Here’s what you can try to cut through the fog.

One way you may be able to decrease brain fog is by clearing out some of this extra unwanted background noise. One proven way to do this is through meditation. Mindfulness meditation training boosts focus while calming the nervous system, which can lead to improved cognitive performance and less brain fog. Distraction can also help dampen some of this background interference. Simple distraction tricks can include listening to music, journaling, drawing, or coloring. And a lot has been published on the powerful effects that exercise can have on brain performance, even in old-age. Research has found that exercise stimulates the production of a protein called brain derived neurotrophic factor which has been shown to boost mental function and improve both depression and anxiety.

Help yourself remember. If there’s something coming up that you know you need to recall, write it down. One example of this is making a list before you go to your appointments. Don’t try to remember your list of medications or the questions that you want to ask your doctor. Write it down ahead of time, and take the list with you. If you are going to the store, don't rely on your memory for picking up everything that you need. Utilize a list to take the burden off of your brain.

Meditate. It takes some practice, but research suggests that meditating can help to improve focus and calm down your nervous system. As a result, you can improve your cognitive performance over time. Ask your doctor about effective ways to meditate if this is something you think would work for you.

Use distraction to your advantage. You’re trying to prevent the kind of distraction that makes brain fog challenging to deal with. But using distraction in right ways for your situation can help. The background “noise” that you experience as a result of your pain can be quieted to some degree with techniques like drawing, coloring, journaling, or listening to music.

Exercise. Exercise has so many benefits for all areas of your body, and your brain is certainly one of them. Regular exercise, regardless of age, can help to improve mental function through a protein called brain0derived neurotrophic factor.

Research is still active in this area, so more recommendations could be on the way for patients suffering with brain fog. Ask your doctor to keep you informed of new options and suggestions that you can try.

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