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Chronic Pain: Does It Affect More Than Your Body?

We expect to feel it after we stub our toe or pull a muscle—the immediate pain that results from an acute injury. We don’t expect pain to resist treatment, last over three months, or interfere with our daily lives. Chronic pain affects over 50 million Americans and impacts much more than your physical health. 79 percent of people with chronic pain screened positive for moderate to severe mental health disorders. While dealing with chronic pain and mental health conditions can feel like a losing battle, there are ways you can begin reclaiming your physical and mental health.

What is chronic pain?

Chronic pain refers to persistent pain that lasts longer than three months. The pain interferes with usual day-to-day activities and can have a negative impact on your health. Some common chronic pain conditions are arthritis, back and neck pain, endometriosis, fibromyalgia and migraines. These conditions cause pain in different ways, but still result in a lingering pain that can resist treatment and medication.

Dr. Lucie Mitchell

How can chronic pain impact mental health? 

The negative effects of chronic pain can have a serious impact on a person’s emotional and psychological well-being. “When pain interferes with almost every aspect of your life, including work, sleep and relationships, it can lead to mental health conditions like anxiety and depression,” explains Dr. Lucie Mitchell, a physiatrist at Harbin Clinic Spine & Pain Management Rome. “Your mental health can then influence your pain, making it more complicated to manage and encouraging a vicious cycle of physical pain and mental stress.”

Anxiety: Chronic pain can lead to the onset and worsening of anxiety, which can then contribute to worsening pain. 

Cognition: Pain can impact a person’s ability to focus, think and remember. Studies show that people who suffer from chronic pain have a lower level of long-term memory, processing speed and selective attention than those who do not suffer from chronic pain.

Depression: Studies suggest that depression and chronic pain go hand-in-hand, with the connection between patients with chronic pain and depression being as high as 85 percent. Depression can also contribute to the development of pain.

Stress: People with chronic pain are exposed to more cortisol, a stress hormone, than others. This excess of cortisol exposure can affect the body negatively and lead to diabetes, cancer and heart problems. 

Are there any treatments that can help?

On top of any pain management a patient goes through for the physical aspects of chronic pain, there are other integrated treatment options that address the mental health symptoms to help improve their overall condition.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a common form of therapy where a patient works with a therapist or psychologist to address anxiety, depression or other mental health symptoms by identifying the negative thoughts they stem from.

Medication: Taking medications such as serotonin and norepinephrine antidepressants can improve mental health, which may lead to a positive impact on chronic pain.

Support Groups: Being involved with a group of individuals who are experiencing the same hardships can be comforting. Chronic pain can make social outings and interactions difficult, and support groups can make a person feel less isolated by providing them with a space where they feel less alone.

Do you think you may be suffering from chronic pain? At Harbin Clinic, our team of 4 board-certified physiatrists identify the source of your pain and create an individualized treatment to either eliminate, reduce, or manage your pain. Make an appointment with your primary care doctor and discuss seeing one of our Spine & Pain Management specialists.

Published September 26, 2022