chronic pain and mental health

Anyone living with a chronic pain condition knows what kind of mental and emotional toll it can take. Being in pain for extended periods of time creates a high level of stress, and that may manifest in a number of different mental health side effects. It can be difficult to know exactly how chronic pain may cause mental health issues to develop, however. This guide is to help you understand the connection between pain and mental health conditions.

The Link Between Chronic Pain and Mental Health

According to recent research, those with chronic pain are nearly four times more likely to develop depression or anxiety. Substance abuse disorders are also more common in pain patients. Studies suggest mutual neural mechanisms may cause this — in other words, physical and mental discomfort are created in the same structures of the brain. When the neurons that indicate physical pain activate, they occasionally activate mental health neurons at the same time. The opposite is also true; having a pre-existing mental health disorder may amplify chronic pain that develops later in life.

Additionally, the state of being in pain can cause significant levels of stress. Prolonged stress can lead to the development of mental health symptoms. The most common secondary symptoms caused by chronic pain are:

  •  Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Low energy
  • Depression
  • Insomnia

The persistence of these symptoms may lead to a mental health diagnosis.

What Chronic Pain Conditions Lead to Mental Health Symptoms?

Any chronic pain condition can be stressful and lead to secondary mental side effects. Some conditions, however, have a higher correlation with these symptoms than others. The following chronic pain conditions are most often associated with mental health effects.

  • Arthritis. Arthritis, the inflammation of joints, can cause disabling pain. This discomfort can in turn lead to mood and anxiety disorders.
  • Fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia causes widespread pain in the muscles and joints, as well as a unique perception of pain itself. The amplification of the pain experience may lead to depression and anxiety.
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Nerve damage that disrupts communication between the brain and body is MS, and this leads to extended periods of pain. This pain in turn may cause mental fatigue, stress, and anxiety.
  • Chronic Migraines. Chronic migraines mean 15 or more migraine days a month. This high rate of pain may often lead to mood or anxiety disorders.

While these are most often associated with mental health symptoms, any chronic pain condition may cause them to develop.

Why it Matters

Chronic pain that is accompanied by mental health side effects needs a unique kind of treatment. By understanding the cause of your mental health symptoms, it is easier to know the best approach in treating them. Methods like talk therapy, medication, meditation, exercise or physical activity, and journaling may help to alleviate mental health issues caused by chronic pain. The advice of a mental health professional is an essential part of treating these side effects. Your mental healthcare provider should work closely with the physicians treating your pain to develop a course of treatment that works for you.

Getting Treatment for Pain

Chronic pain can be managed. Through the care of professionals and a comprehensive treatment plan, patients with chronic pain disorders can mitigate or offset their symptoms. This includes both pain and the secondary mental health side effects pain can cause. At Pontchartrain Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, our team of experts is ready to help you manage your chronic pain. Contact us today with any questions or to set up an appointment.

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