Chronic Pain and Mental Health
At some time in our lives, we will all experience pain—physical and/or emotional discomfort caused by illness, injury, or an upsetting event. Though most of us would rather avoid it, pain does serve an actual purpose that is good and seen as “protective.” For example, when you experience pain your brain signals you to stop doing whatever is causing the pain, preventing further harm to your body.
Pain, however, is not meant to last for a long time. Pain that typically lasts less than 3 to 6 months is called acute pain, which is the form of pain most of us experience. For some people, pain can be ongoing or go away and then come back, lasting beyond the usual course of 3 to 6 months and negatively affecting a person’s well-being. This is called chronic pain or persistent pain. Put simply, chronic or persistent pain is pain that continues when it should not.
Chronic pain is often associated with other health conditions such as anxiety and depression, resulting in a low health-related quality of life.
Living with daily pain is physically and emotionally stressful. Chronic stress is known to change the levels of stress hormones and neurochemicals found within your brain and nervous system; these can affect your mood, thinking, and behavior. Disrupting your body’s balance of these chemicals can bring on depression in some people.
There are several ways chronic pain associated with these conditions can interfere with your everyday life. It can affect your ability to function at home and work. You may find it difficult to participate in social activities and hobbies, which could lead to decreased self-esteem. It is also common for people with chronic pain to have sleep disturbances, fatigue, trouble concentrating, decreased appetite, and mood changes. These negative changes in your lifestyle can increase your pain and dampen your overall mood; the frustration of dealing with this can result in depression and anxiety.
Prevalence Of Mental Health Conditions In Those With Chronic Pain
Chronic pain, one of the most common reasons adults seek medical care, has been linked to activity limitations, dependence on opioids, anxiety, and depression, and reduced quality of life.
High-impact chronic pain is pain that has lasted three months or longer and is accompanied by at least one major activity restriction, such as being unable to work outside the home, go to school, or do household chores. These people report more severe pain, more mental health problems and cognitive impairments, more difficulty taking care of themselves, and higher health care use than those who have chronic pain without these activity restrictions.
Common Chronic Pain Conditions And Their Association With Mental Health
Arthritis: Arthritis is inflammation of one or more of your joints, which can cause disabling pain. Due to pain, limitation of movement, and impairment of the joints, Arthritis may reduce a person’s ability to complete daily activities and can sometimes keep people from participating in social activities. The frustration with the inability to meet life’s demands and isolation from not being able to participate in social activities may lead to the development of mental health conditions like depression, which can happen at any age.
Fibromyalgia: Fibromyalgia (FM) is a chronic multi-symptom disease where the brain and spinal cord process pain signals differently. FM typically affects your mental health, social functioning, energy, and overall general health.
Multiple Sclerosis Multiple sclerosis (MS) is nerve damage that disrupts communication between the brain and the body. The three common mental health concerns when dealing with MS include depression, anxiety and pseudobulbar affect. Generalized anxiety disorder appears to be the most common anxiety disorder among persons with MS. Panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may also be much more common among MS patients than among the general population.
Back/Neck Pain The back/neck pain most are familiar with is a mild ache that can occur from muscle strain, sleeping in an uncomfortable position, dealing with heavy objects, trauma, and/or stress. While not common, back/neck pain can also be a signal of a serious underlying medical issue, such as meningitis or cancer.
Chronic Migraines Migraines that last for 15 or more days a month for more than three months are known as chronic migraines. Chronic migraines frequently occur simultaneously with mental health conditions; there is an increased prevalence of major depressive disorder and anxiety disorder in those with migraines compared to those without migraines.
Menstruation-related pain While some pain is normal with periods, conditions like endometriosis and uterine fibroids can be debilitating. Endometriosis is a disorder in which tissue similar to the tissue lining the inside of the uterus (the endometrium) grows outside of the uterus. Endometriosis and uterine fibroids share many symptoms, including fatigue, heavy bleeding and/or bleeding between cycles, frequent urination, and severe pelvic pain or cramping. This pain is commonly invalidated – many still consider talking about periods to be inappropriate, so people with uteruses often have their pain delegitimized.