06 Apr Chronic Pain, Depression and Lifestyle: They All Tie Together
It should be of no surprise to anyone to discover that chronic pain and depression are often linked together. Chronic pain is enough to take the wind out of anyone’s sails. But studies also show that depression creates more sensitivity to pain, which means that the two issues are linked symbiotically. The more pain you are in, the more depressed you are likely to be. The more depressed you are, the more pain you feel.
Psycho-social Aspects of Pain
There is an obvious psychological correlation between pain and depression. Much of this has to do with limitations on one’s life. If you have chronic pain and can no longer enjoy the sports you once enjoyed, or you have trouble at the job you used to love, then you suffer from a loss – a loss of opportunity and expectations. For any loss, people go through a grieving process. In a potentially downward pattern, people can find unhealthy ways to manage their grief, through addictive substances and other bad choices. The downward spiral can continue. The more a life falls into disarray, the more losses there are, and the more there is to grieve.
Same Neural Pathways
Pain and depression, however, also share some of the same neural pathways and the same neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters are chemicals that allow one nerve cell to communicate with another. If you stub your toe, the nerves go only so far until the pain message is transferred to another nerve cell and so on until it reaches the brain.
Of course, there is a long list of issues and emotional responses connected to chronic pain. Relationships suffer. People in pain can be irritable and fearful of being hurt, bringing on more pain. They often cut back on exercise or stop physical activity altogether, which leads to declining health, weight problems, reduced sex drive, anger, and higher levels of stress. Anxiety increases, as does fatigue, insomnia, and a feeling of isolation.
Reinventing Your Life
There is no one size fits all answer to the complicated relationship between pain and depression, but the best approach is to treat chronic pain as a whole-person illness. The pain is only one aspect of chronic pain that needs to be addressed. Treatment should also include efforts to control depression, anxiety, and insomnia and to manage lifestyle changes forced upon someone in pain.
Commonly, this is referred to as a “whole-person” approach to medicine. Under this type of treatment, pain management should include diet and exercise support, relaxation techniques, and talk therapy if needed.
Alternative Treatment Approaches
It turns out, several forms of anti-depressants can help reduce a patient’s perception of the pain they feel. If you cannot rid yourself of the pain at the source and you don’t want to live in a cloud of pain medications, then combining physical therapy, talk therapy and a nutrition program could be right for you. You might think this would isolate you further, but chances are it would do the opposite. Support groups can be a great source of new friends. Taking a yoga class or joining an exercise group can also help return you to a more normal – if changed – lifestyle.
Normal may not be the same once you have come down with a chronically painful condition, but you can reinvent normal and find yourself on the comeback even if it is on different terms.
Ask Your Doctor
Ask your pain management physician for advice on how to expand your lifestyle to get back some of the losses you may be suffering on top of the pain you might be in.
The experts at Sorrento Valley Pain Relief Center in San Diego can help you devise a long-term strategy for pain mitigation. Call 858-404-5944 for help as soon as possible.