Depression and Chronic Pain: How They Are Connected

December 30, 2022
Chronic pain and depression
Depression and Chronic Pain: How They Are Connected

The relationship between chronic pain and depression is very real but quite complex. And in most cases, experts use the same techniques to treat the two co-existing disorders. However, as you explore this connection, it is essential to understand that the consequences of clinical depression may go beyond chronic pain and impact physical health in other ways as well.

Depression can cause or exacerbate pain. Similarly, chronic pain can induce depressive symptoms, affecting mood, thoughts, and behavior. People with depression have a higher risk of developing chronic pain in the future, and those with pain have more than three times the average risk of developing mental health issues, especially depression. But how exactly are those two connected?

Depression can manifest itself in both mental and physical symptoms. Get help today to overcome your struggles.

Why Depression and Chronic Pain Can Co-occur

Living with chronic pain is difficult, but the combination of the two can be unbearable. The relationship between chronic pain and mental health is usually vicious, with one exacerbating the other.

Clinical depression is more than a psychological state with a feeling of sadness. Besides low mood, depressed individuals experience a loss of interest in activities, fatigue, slowed response, feelings of worthlessness, and lack of motivation. Some even experience physical symptoms, including sleep disturbances, stomach problems, and pain.

Depression often has identifiable causes, such as entrenchment or loss of a loved one. However, sometimes you can’t pinpoint the cause of your symptoms, but the disorder persists.

Similarly, chronic pain might have recognizable precipitators such as arthritis or migraine. Whatever the cause is, chronic body pain drains the patient physically and mentally. It disrupts one’s sleep, mood, and performance at school or work. The effects of pain on mental health are significant, with up to 85 percent of individuals with chronic pain battling depression or anxiety.

Can Depression Cause Physical Pain?

Depression and chronic pain have a common pathophysiological pathway that points to the overlap of their symptoms and close relationship. Both involve the dysregulation of certain brain chemicals and increased central nervous system stimulation. Researchers have identified up to six regions of the brain involved in both chronic pain processing and depression pathogenesis.

Many people diagnosed with depression have unexplained symptoms of physical pain. Vague aches often associated with clinical depression include back pain, stomach upset, and limb or joint pain that often occur together with tiredness and psychomotor activity changes.

Can depression cause physical pain

Psychogenic pain, in which your brain perceives pain without a physical cause, might also occur with depression. Typically, the pain lingers even after the removal of the damaging agent.

The impact of chronic pain on one’s life can contribute to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Long-standing back pain, for instance, might force you into a change of jobs or problems in romantic relationships. Disruptions of such magnitude can cause or worsen depression.

Treating Chronic Pain and Depression

While many treatment approaches focus on alleviating the symptoms of individual diseases or eradicating their underlying causes, some leverage the shared pathways to treat both. Here are the treatments that improve the symptoms of both depression and chronic pain.

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Antidepressant Medications

Every medication used for treating psychiatric symptoms of depression has the potential to alleviate pain. For those with chronic pain and depression, tricyclics and selective serotonin inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most potent medications as they restore the balance of brain chemicals and reduce pain perception while treating depression.

Cognitive Therapy

As part of treatment, a person learns to detect the negative thoughts associated with chronic pain that distort reality and can worsen the symptoms. The therapist teaches the patient how to handle these maladaptive thinking patterns and feel better. Moreover, unlike those with chronic pain alone, individuals battling both clinical depression and pain have lesser control over their lives and tend to adopt unhealthy coping mechanisms. That is where psychotherapy can also be helpful, as it aids in developing beneficial coping skills.


When battling chronic pain, you’re likely to avoid physical activity. However, this puts you at a higher risk of getting out of shape and suffering inactivity-related injuries, fueling the vicious cycle of chronic pain and depression. Exercise promotes the release of particular chemicals that enhance mood and reduce depression. To combat chronic pain and depression, ask your doctor to help you create a suitable plan for physical activity.

Depression and chronic pain

The Best Approach to Managing Pain and Depression

Clinical depression and chronic pain can make life unbearable as they influence each other. To improve your mental and physical state and get back to doing the things you enjoy, you need a comprehensive treatment plan.

Consider consulting a pain specialist and seeing a mental health professional to understand the cause of your symptoms. An ideal approach for treating chronic pain and depression should be comprehensive and requires your commitment. And with professional help, you can achieve the set treatment goals quicker.


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