Chronic Pain-Induced Depression: The Lesser of Two Evils

Updated on July 23, 2023

Chronic pain and depression are two complex and debilitating conditions that can often intertwine. While they are distinct health issues, research has shown that they can have a strong correlation, with each condition potentially exacerbating the other. As a medical professional who has been practicing for more than 24 years, I’ve researched the relationship between chronic pain and depression, learning the ways in which they can affect each other, and the importance of addressing both conditions in a comprehensive treatment plan.

What Classifies Chronic Pain and Depression?

Chronic pain is explained as persistent pain that lasts for longer than three months, whereas depression is a mood disorder that affects a person’s emotional and mental state. While they may seem like separate conditions, studies have shown that they can be linked. In fact, recent research has found that individuals with chronic pain are three times more likely to experience depression than those without chronic pain.

How Are They Linked?

One of the ways in which chronic pain and depression are linked is the way they affect the brain. Chronic pain can cause changes in the brain’s chemistry and structure, leading to the release of stress hormones and the activation of the sympathetic nervous system. This can lead to feelings of anxiety, irritability and even depression. In turn, depression can also affect the way the brain perceives and processes pain, leading to an amplification of the pain experience.

Chronic pain can also affect a person’s daily life in many ways, leading to social isolation, difficulty sleeping and decreased physical activity. This can contribute to symptoms of depression and increase the risk of developing the condition. Similarly, depression can also impact a person’s ability to manage their pain, as they may be less likely to engage in healthy coping strategies or to seek appropriate medical treatment.

Treatment Options

It is important to address both chronic pain and depression in a comprehensive treatment plan. This may involve a combination of medications, therapy and lifestyle changes. For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be helpful in addressing both conditions by helping individuals to identify negative thought patterns and develop coping strategies. Additionally, exercise and other physical activities have been shown to be effective in reducing chronic pain and improving mood. When chronic pain limits you from everyday activities, treatments offered at pain management clinics, such as The Pain Center of Arizona, can provide minimally invasive procedures to get to the root of the problem instead of reaching for medication.

In some cases, medication may also be necessary to manage symptoms of chronic pain and depression. However, it is important to work with a healthcare provider who has expertise in chronic pain to develop an appropriate treatment plan, as some medications can have interactions or side effects that may worsen either condition.

Chronic pain and depression are complex conditions that are found to be linked to each other. It is important to address both conditions in a comprehensive treatment plan to improve overall health and quality of life, whether it be changes in lifestyle, diet, or needing appropriate medical care and support.

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Steven M. Siwek, MD, MBA

Steven M. Siwek, MD, MBA, is the Valley’s leading pain management specialist and is the first doctor to perform various minimally invasive procedures for pain treatment, including the spinal fuse and others. Dr. Siwek completed medical school at New York Medical College and finished his residency and fellowship at Mayo Clinic. He received a Masters of Business Administration at Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University. After completing residency, Dr. Siwek founded The Pain Center of Arizona in 2002 to offer treatment, support, and resources to address chronic pain’s physical, mental, and emotional impact.