Thursday, November 14, 2013

Depression & Chronic Pain

The link between depression and chronic pain has been studied heavily in recent years, with more and more people diagnosed with depression each year. Chronic pain is one of the many symptoms of depression, and yet many don't recognize that there is a relationship between chronic pain and depression. But the connection between mind and body is closely tied together, affecting each other in every way.


The National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) defines depression as "a serious medical condition that involves the body, mood, and thoughts. It affects the way a person eats and sleeps, the way one feels about oneself, and the way one thinks about things." The institute states each year depression affects about 20.9 million people in America, with possibly more numbers unreported. Depression isn't caused by one single factor; instead it is a culmination of genes, psychological traits and environmental factors.

Symptoms of Depression

Common symptoms include: trouble sleeping, early-morning awakening or oversleeping; appetite and/or weight changes; thoughts of death or suicide or suicide attempts; restlessness, irritability; and persistent physical symptoms, such as headaches, digestive disorders and chronic pain that do not respond to routine treatment. Sufficient research hasn't been done yet to see if chronic pain causes depression, but some studies suggest that chronic pain can cause depressive symptoms.

Chronic Pain

Kaiser Permanente says chronic pain, which is a body's painful response to outside stimuli, can be more illusive and painful because it "doesn't always have a specific cause and can take a long time to improve. Sometimes complete relief from chronic pain is not possible." Some examples of chronic pain are: arthritis, back pain, fibromyalgia and endometriosis.

Common Link

Essentially, depression and chronic pain are both caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. The New York Times indicated that chronic pain, depression and anxiety are all caused by chemical abnormalities. These chemical abnormalities in the brain affect the body both mentally and physically because the brain is responsible for telling the body's muscles and tissues respond to outside stimulus.

Daniel K. Hall-Flavin M.D. says, "sometimes depression causes unexplained physical symptoms---such as back pain or headaches. In other cases, depression may increase your response to pain, or at least increase the suffering associated with pain. Conversely, chronic pain is stressful and depressing in itself."


Early identification and diagnosis is the best way to treat depression and chronic pain. Depression and chronic pain share a lot of the same treatments, such as increased physical activity, psychotherapy, medication, etc.

If a person is feeling or witnessing any of the symptoms listed above, she should check with her doctor who will provide further insight and advice. There are three ways to treat these symptoms: medications, psychotherapy and electroconvulsive therapy (NAMI). Physicians and therapist will work with the patient to decide on the best treatment available.

Without treatment, chronic pain and depression can seriously affect a person's quality of life. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) states that lack of treatment can lead to "unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, suicide and wasted lives."

Tags: chronic pain, chronic pain, chronic pain depression, depression chronic, pain depression, back pain, chemical abnormalities