Believe it or not, chronic back pain is commonly associated with depression and vice versa. This connection is referred to as major depression or clinical depression. Only a couple of studies have been conducted between these conditions, but chronic back pain and depression are one of the most common health problems physicians encounter. According to a study, 50% of depressed patients who sought help from a general practitioner complained only of physical symptoms.
How are the two connected?
Chronic pain and depression share some of the same brain chemicals, or neurotransmitters, that travel between nerve pathways in the brain and spinal cord. Research has shown that people with chronic back pain and depression often feel more intense pain than those with only chronic pain.
Intense symptoms include:
- Lack of exercise
- Lack of sleep
- Decreased sex drive
- Problems concentrating or decreased memory
- Significant weight loss or weight gain
- Feeling worthless
- Feeling restless or fatigue
Chronic pain slows recovery from depression, and depression slows the recovery of pain. Pain and depression feed on each other. A depressed person can isolate themselves which causes deeper depression. This can result in a person becoming immobilized and creates further pain.
Unfortunately, many patients with chronic back pain and depression don’t realize they’re depressed and will only seek medical attention for the pain. For those who do get diagnosed with both, they can be treated at the same time.
Treatments may include psychological counseling, relaxation and behavioral therapy and/or a low dose antidepressants. These treatments can reduce depression back pain by blocking neurotransmitters within the brain that controls a person’s mood and pain perceptions. Exercise is another alternative because it increases serotonin levels which release feel-good endorphins. Exercise can also reduce stiffness, increase flexibility, tone muscles and boost self-esteem.
The goal is not just to only alleviate the symptoms, but to restore a person so they can lead a productive life.