How Physical Pain and Income Inequality Are Connected

Dynamic Health & Pain Management Pain Management

Low Income and Physical Pain Link

The human body is extremely complex and has interesting ways of letting you know when it’s in distress due to your actions. Consider the following scenarios:

  • If you eat fast food everyday for a week, eventually you will begin to feel sick. This is your body telling you to please bring back the veggies.
  • If you don’t sleep for three nights in a row, you will probably begin to feel distressed and slightly off kilter. This is your body begging for rest.

See the pattern? Your body lets you know with a physical response that something you are doing is not good for it.

While it is easy to see the correlation between health and eating too many cheeseburgers, sometimes physical pain can occur due to a less obvious stimulus, such as emotional stress. For example, some recent studies have found that economic uncertainty and physical pain are directly linked.

In today’s struggling economy, stressful events like job loss, low income, or an uncertain economic future are some of the biggest triggers for physical pain.

Not only does financial insecurity directly cause increased physical pain, but a study conducted at the University of Virginia found that the awareness of economic struggles decreased tolerance for pain in student participants. In this study, pain tolerance was measured using length of time students were able to hold their hands in a bucket of ice water. After measuring each participant’s baseline pain tolerance (which was generally equal across all students), they were divided into two randomly assigned groups.

The first group was told that their college degree would yield positive monetary results in the future, while the other half were told the opposite — that they would experience economic insecurity in the future. After receiving their prospective results, each group was again asked to test their pain tolerance with a bucket of freezing water.

Interestingly, the group who now knew they would be facing a dismal financial future had a decrease in pain tolerance of 25%.

So what does this study show? There is definitely a correlation between physical pain and financial stress; however, this particular study more clearly shows that this stress does not necessarily create new pain, but it does allow someone to feel pre-existing pain more intensely.

How to help control your chronic pain without relying only on painkillers.

Most chronic pain is treated through the use of prescription painkillers only, ignoring possible holistic treatments.

First and foremost is the fact that the use of painkillers does not address the emotional issues, like feeling out of control or low self-esteem, that go hand-in-hand with low income, unemployment, or general financial stress. Instead, prescription drugs can often cause substance abuse, furthering the income gap and decreasing overall physical and mental health.

Secondly, prescription drugs can be far too expensive for financially unstable people to afford long-term. Since we know that physical pain is linked directly to income inequality, why prescribe hard-to-afford medication as the treatment? The results are, again, counterproductive.

So how can you get a handle on the physical pain of financial crisis without resorting to prescription drugs?

It is important to instead focus on improving confidence and a feeling of self-control. One study analyzes the impact of yoga on chronic low back pain in low-income minority participants.

Overall, the results showed a positive correlation between yoga and increased feeling of positivity and decreased pain. One participant is quoted saying that “[Breathing] … takes your mind off of the pain, and focusing on the health of your body […] bring[s] your mind to the positive”. The study also found that the more involved a patient is in treating their pain, the more success they have in gaining control of it.
So don’t let your pain dictate your life any longer. Take back control by fully understanding your situation. Sure, prescription drugs can take the edge off, but smarter, long-term treatment can help you finally start healing, emotionally and physically.