A broken heart is often harder to heal than a broken leg. Now researchers say that a broken heart can contribute to lasting chronic pain. In a reflections column published Dec. 21 in the Annals of Family Medicine, pain experts Mark Sullivan and Jane Ballantyne at the University of Washington School of Medicine, say emotional pain and chronic physical pain are bidirectional. Painkillers, they said, ultimately make things worse.
Their argument is based on new epidemiological and neuroscientific evidence, which suggests emotional pain activates many of the same limbic brain centers as physical pain. This is especially true, they said, for the most common chronic pain syndromes – back pain, headaches, and fibromyalgia. Opioids may make patients feel better early on, but over the long term these drugs cause all kinds of havoc on their well-being, the researchers said.