Chronic Pain and Mental Health
July 21, 2021
There’s no doubt that we have all experienced pain. In a typical scenario, the injury would heal or you would recover from an illness. The pain would go away. Our bodies are not meant to constantly be in pain.
Pain that lasts less than 3 to 6 months is called acute pain, which is the form of pain most of us experience. For some people though, pain can be ongoing, or it goes away and comes back, lasting beyond the usual timeframe. This is chronic pain. It’s pain that continues when it should not, and it’s often associated with mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression.
How Chronic Pain Impacts Mental Health
Living with daily pain is physically and emotionally stressful. Chronic stress can change the levels of stress hormones and neurochemicals in the brain and nervous system, which may affect your mood, thinking, and behavior. Disrupting your body’s balance of these chemicals can bring on depression in some people.
There are several ways chronic pain associated with anxiety and depression can interfere with your everyday life, such as:
- Negatively affect your ability to function at home and work
- Make it difficult to participate in social activities and hobbies, which could lead to decreased self-esteem
- Cause sleep disturbances, and therefore fatigue, trouble concentrating, decreased appetite, and mood changes
According to Mental Health America, research shows that those with chronic pain are four times more likely to have depression or anxiety than those who are pain-free. In 2016, approximately 20% of U.S. adults had chronic pain (about 50 million people).
What Chronic Pain Conditions Are Associated With Mental Health?
Any type of chronic pain from any cause could cause mental health problems, but here are some of the commonly reported conditions associated with pain:
- Arthritis — Inflammation of one or more of your joints, which can cause disabling pain. There are more than 100 different forms of arthritis. The most common types include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriatic arthritis. Specific mood and anxiety disorders occur at higher rates among those with arthritis than those without arthritis.
- Fibromyalgia — This chronic multi-symptom disease involves the brain and spinal cord processing pain signals differently. Fibromyalgia is associated with widespread pain in the muscles and bones, areas of tenderness, and general fatigue. It may affect your mental health, social functioning, energy, and overall general health.
- Multiple Sclerosis — MS involves nerve damage that disrupts communication between the brain and the body. The three most common mental health concerns when dealing with MS include depression, anxiety, and pseudobulbar affect (pathological laughing and crying).
- Back/neck pain — The back/neck pain most are familiar with is a mild ache that can occur from muscle strain, sleeping in an uncomfortable position, dealing with heavy objects, trauma and/or stress. While not common, back/neck pain can also be a signal of a serious underlying medical issue, such as meningitis, or cancer. Mental health conditions were more common among persons with back/neck pain than among persons without.
- Chronic migraines — Migraines that last for 15 or more days a month for more than three months are known as chronic migraines. Chronic migraines frequently occur simultaneously with mental health conditions; there is an increased prevalence of major depressive disorder and anxiety disorder in those with migraines compared to those without migraines.
How to Handle Mental Health Conditions Caused by Chronic Pain
Diagnosing and treating pain can be tricky because pain is a subjective experience, and there is no test to measure and locate it precisely. We may start treating it with medications that can be taken orally or applied directly to the skin (creams and patches), or through injections, and we also offer many treatment options at Southside Pain Specialists that can help.
We often refer patients to a therapist or psychologist for additional mental support. Antidepressants, therapy, stress-reduction techniques, physical therapy, and more may be involved in the overall treatment plan for those experiencing chronic pain and mental health issues.
As always, it is very important to continuously work with your doctor to identify the proper treatment options suitable for you. It’s crucial to stay ahead of mental health issues like depression and anxiety to make sure they don’t reach a critical level.
Start your pain management journey by scheduling an appointment at Southside Pain Specialists