Chronic pain, or pain that lasts persistently for longer than three months, can make a person more susceptible to emotional changes such as depression and anxiety. Living with chronic pain can also affect relationships with others. Back problems can cause physical limitations, which makes a person more likely to stay at home instead of going out. Chronic pain sufferers not only have to fight against physical pain but also must deal with mental side effects as well. When it’s all tallied, it can seem overwhelming. But with the support of medical professionals, family, and friends, living with chronic pain can be more manageable. Your doctor can work with you to develop a plan to manage your pain, your mood, and improve your quality of life.
The Physical Symptoms of Depression
Depression is commonly thought of only as a mental illness that affects emotions, but depression can manifest as physical pain and cause real changes in your body. Fatigue, decreased pain tolerance, back pain, aching muscles, and nausea are some of the most common physical symptoms of depression. Because many of these symptoms happen with other conditions, many people who suffer from depression may not ask for help for them.
Pain is a way that your brain communicates, and depression is related to improper functioning of the pathways that connect the parts of the brain that processes emotional information. Some of these pathways also process physical pain information.
Although often associated with bad posture and injuries, chronic back pain can be a sign of stress or depression. Psychological distress such as stress can cause back pain. Back pain and nausea are often related symptoms of stress as well. Frequently symptoms related to digestive issues can radiate to the back.
Since pain and depression often go together, easing physical pain can help ease your depression as well.
What Helps Back Pain
Treating pain can help patients return to normal both physically and mentally. Certain medications and therapies can target both pain and depression. Patients benefit the most when chronic pain and depression are treated together. A few treatment options include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy. This type of therapy addresses negative thinking patterns and teaches patients coping skills to manage depression and pain.
- Relaxation training. Because stress aggravates the pain and increases symptoms of depression and anxiety, relaxation training works to reduce stress.
- Physical therapy. A physical therapist can help improve mobility, reduce pain, and improve mood by teaching techniques for muscle relaxation.
- Exercise. Physical activity can improve mood and decrease pain.
- Group therapy. Self-help groups provide psychological support for dealing with pain and depression and anxiety. Support groups can be local to your area or found online.
Between 30 and 50% of people who suffer from chronic pain also struggle with depression and anxiety. Chronic pain can influence a person’s thoughts and moods in a big way. Patients who suffer from severe back pain, for example, may isolate themselves from others, feel increased stress and feelings of worthlessness. This cycle is hard to break.
Always be honest with your doctor and yourself if you think you might have symptoms of depression in addition to your pain. Your doctor can put together a treatment plan that will improve your mood as well as your pain and help you feel more like yourself.