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How Chronic Pain Can Lead To Depression

Call Jax Spine & Pain Centers Today if You Feel Your Pain Has Resulted in Depression (904) 223-3321. We can help. How you feel matters. 

Living with chronic or long-term pain is very taxing for most people. When you have chronic pain and depression, it’s even tougher. Often the two conditions do go hand-in-hand. At Jax Spine & Pain Centers, we care about the well being of our patients, full-circle, and we want to make sure our patients are living the best quality of lives possible.

Depression magnifies pain. It makes everyday living seem more difficult and this does become reality for many chronic pain patients. Still, it’s important to know that medications and psychotherapy can help relieve the depression and make chronic pain more tolerable.

What Is Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain can last anywhere from 3-to-6 months and beyond, from the original problem or injury. When pain becomes chronic, you may have the following symptoms persist:

  • Unusually high levels of stress hormones
  • Low energy
  • Mood disorders
  • Muscle pain
  • Lower-than-normal mental and physical performance.

Chronic pain gets worse as changes in your body make you more sensitive to pain. You may start to hurt in places that used to feel okay..

It can disrupt sleep and cause you to wake up at night. This can make you tired and not as productive during the day. The ongoing pain can cause additional irritation and make it difficult for you to deal with others. If you have to care for children or work full-time, all this may make your life seem too challenging. These feelings can lead to irritability, depression, and even potential suicide.

Here’s What Happens?

Depression is one of the most common mental health problems facing people with chronic pain. It often makes someone’s other medical conditions and treatment more complicated.

Check out these related statistics:

  • According to the American Pain Foundation, about 32 million people in the U.S. report to have had pain lasting longer than a year.
  • From one-quarter to more than half of the population that complains of pain to their doctors are depressed.
  • On average, 65% of depressed people complain of pain.
  • People whose pain limits their independence are more likely to get depressed.

Because depression in people with chronic pain frequently goes undiagnosed, it often goes untreated. Pain symptoms and complaints usually take center stage on most pain management doctor visits.

Has a Cycle Been Identified?

Pain provokes an emotional response in everyone. If you have pain, you may also have anxiety, irritability, and agitation. These are normal feelings when you’re hurting. Usually, as pain subsides, so does the stressful response.

But with chronic pain, you may feel constantly tense and stressed. Over time, the stress can result in different emotional problems associated with depression:

  • Altered mood
  • Anger
  • Chronic anxiety
  • Confused thinking
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Family stress
  • Fatigue
  • Fear of injury
  • Financial concerns
  • Irritability
  • Legal issues
  • Physical de-conditioning
  • Reduced sexual interest and activity
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Social isolation
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Work problems

Why Is There an Overlap?

Depression and chronic pain share some of the same neurotransmitters – brain chemicals that act as messengers traveling between nerves. Depression and chronic pain also share some of the same nerve pathways in the brain and spinal cord.

The impact of chronic pain on a person’s life also contributes to depression. It can force you to struggle with tremendous losses, such as a lack of exercise, sleep, social network, relationships, sexual relationships, even a job and income. These losses can contribute to depression in people who are vulnerable to clinical depression according to research.

It then magnifies the pain and reduces your ability to live with it. Research has compared people with chronic pain and depression to those with only chronic pain. Those with both report:

  • More intense pain
  • Less control of their lives
  • More unhealthy coping strategies

Because chronic pain and depression can be intertwined, they are often treated together. In fact, some medications can improve both.

Is There a “Whole-Life” Approach?

Chronic pain and depression can affect a person’s entire life. Consequently, an ideal treatment approach addresses all the areas of your life that are affected by them.

Because of the connection between the two, it makes sense that treatments for these conditions overlap. It’s why it is so increasingly important to see a professional as soon as you identify the potential for chronic pain and depression.

How Do Antidepressants Help Both?

Because chronic pain and depression can involve the same nerves and neurotransmitters, certain antidepressants are often used to treat both. Some antidepressants can reduce the perception of pain.

There is abundant evidence of the effectiveness of tricyclic antidepressants. They can be highly effective for forms of neurologically-based pain (neuropathic pain) such as migraine headaches, herniated disks, and other spinal nerve root problems. However, because of side effects, they aren’t used as much anymore. Newer antidepressants such as the serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, on the other hand, seem to work well, often with fewer side effects.

How Can Physical Activity Help?

Many people with chronic pain avoid exercise. But you can get out of shape and have more risk of injury and more pain. Talk with your doctor to design an exercise plan that’s safe and effective for you.

Exercise may also help ease depression by releasing the same kind of brain chemicals that antidepressant medications are thought to affect.

What’s the Best Way to Manage Pain and Depression?

Team up with a pain specialist or even your family doctor to create a treatment plan. When chronic pain and depression are combined, the need to work with a doctor is even greater. As you develop a plan, keep in mind that the ideal pain management plan will have many parts.

There are resources that can help you:

  • The American Chronic Pain Association
  • The American Pain Foundation
  • The Academy of Cognitive Therapy

Find a cognitive therapist near you with experience treating chronic pain. The above groups can help you find one.

Pain and depression are closely related. Depression can cause pain — and pain can cause depression. Sometimes pain and depression create a vicious cycle in which pain worsens symptoms of depression, and then the resulting depression worsens feelings of pain.

In many people, depression causes unexplained physical symptoms such as back pain or headaches. This kind of pain may be the first or the only sign of depression.

To get symptoms of pain and depression under control, you may need separate treatment for each condition. However, some treatments may help with both:

  • Antidepressant medications may relieve both pain and depression because of shared chemical messengers in the brain.
  • Talk therapy, also called psychological counseling (psychotherapy), can be effective in treating both conditions.
  • Stress-reduction techniques, physical activity, exercise, meditation, journaling, learning coping skills and other strategies also may help.
  • Pain rehabilitation programs, such as the comprehensive Pain Rehabilitation Center at Mayo Clinic, typically provide a team approach to treatment, including medical and psychiatric aspects.

Treatment for co-occurring pain and depression may be most effective when it involves a combination of treatments.

If you have pain and depression, get help before your symptoms worsen. You don’t have to live this way. There are solutions if the proper time is taken to get you the right help.

Call Jax Spine & Pain Centers Today (904) 223-3321. We can help. How you feel matters. 


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