The link between depression and chronic pain
Written by: Liz
Published on: July 19, 2021

Chronic pain and depression commonly occur together. In fact, depression in patients with chronic pain is associated with decreased function, more inadequate treatment response and increased health care costs.

Chronic pain is not just unpleasant or inconvenient, it can profoundly affect one’s capacity to work, your physical health and wellbeing, as well as having an impact on relationships. In some cases, depression can also end in suicide.

According to PainAustralia, one in five Australian adults with severe or very severe pain suffer depression or other mood disorders. Almost a third of Australian adults with severe or very severe pain experience high levels of psychological distress; around three times the rate of those with mild pain and six times the rate of those with no pain.

Chronic pain (1) lasts much longer than would be expected from the original problem or injury. When pain becomes chronic, you may have:

  • 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 OK. Chronic pain 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 of this may make your life seem too challenging. These feelings can lead to irritability, sadness, anger and depression.

Pain and depression are closely correlated from both brain regions and the neurological function system, whereby chronic pain may lead to depression. One of the crucial causes for chronic pain leading to depression appears to be the rejuvenating effect of common neuroplasticity changes on the occurrence and development of the two disorders in question.

Nevertheless, current efforts in this field fail to sufficiently and explicitly explain their connection. Further investigations into the common neuroplasticity changes shared by pain and depression are warranted to promote the identification of new drug targets and to free patients from chronic pain-induced depression. (2)

To get symptoms of pain and depression under control, you may need different treatments 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 or psychotherapy, can be effective in treating both conditions.
  • Stress-reduction techniques, physical activity, exercise, meditation, journaling, learning coping skills and other strategies may also help.
  • Pain rehabilitation programs can provide a team approach to other treatments, such as the 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. Getting the proper treatment can help you start enjoying life again. (3)

(1) https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/depression-chronic-pain 

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5494581/ 

(3) https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/pain-and-depression/faq-20057823 

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