Psychological Impacts of Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is defined as pain that lasts longer than six months and affects an individual’s ability to function daily. Some of the most common types of chronic pain include but are not limited to arthritis, back pain, neck pain, headaches, migraines, muscle pain, and scar tissue pain. There are several medical treatments that a medical provider may recommend to relieve chronic pain. Some may include prescription or over-the-counter medication, physical therapy, and surgery. In addition to the physical pain that one experiences with chronic pain, there are many psychological impacts of the experience of chronic pain. Some of the most common mental health conditions closely associated with chronic pain include depression and anxiety. This blog will discuss some of these impacts.
Someone suffering from chronic pain may be unable to work or socialize. This can lead someone to experience immense loneliness or develop feelings of worthlessness. They may isolate themselves from family or friends. Moreover, an individual may develop feelings of guilt and shame related to their physical abilities. As a result, symptoms of depression may be triggered. The relationship between chronic pain and depression can best be described as a vicious cycle.
Let’s take a step back and talk about this cycle more.
If you think of your body as a machine with gears that work together to keep your body moving. When you are without pain, the machine works smoothly. However, when you are in pain, think of it as if one of the gears in the machine is stuck. If this is the case, then the stuck gear will cause all of the other gears to slow down and eventually stop altogether.
Thus, individuals with chronic pain may already isolate themselves or experience low moods. Someone with depression may experience this more so. As a result of emotional distress or anguish, an individual’s experience of pain may increase. Moreover, the experience of pain may lead to an increase in symptoms of depression.
Individuals with chronic pain may develop many worries. Topics of worry may include financial concerns, worrying about treatment of the pain, how to maintain job status, and worrying about the pain itself (why it's occurring, why it has returned, or what is making it worse). Moreover, a person may begin to question their experience of pain and may fear that they are “making it up in their head.” Additionally, physical pain can prevent an individual from sleeping comfortably or falling asleep. As a result, individuals may be more prone to worry while awake, keeping the brain awake.
Like depression and chronic pain, the relationship between anxiety and chronic pain may also be described as a vicious cycle, as chronic pain may lead to anxiety and vice versa.
For example, individuals with chronic pain may experience increased anxiety related to the status of their pain or the impact their pain may have on them. This increase in stress may lead to an increase in physical symptoms within the body, such as muscle tension or joint pain. This increase in pain may further lead to an increase in feelings of anxiety or stress.
Overall, there are many more ways chronic pain may impact psychological health. If you are experiencing some of the mental health concerns discussed above, I will encourage you to identify mental health resources in your community, such as support groups or individual therapy. To identify some community mental health resources or resources that are available to assist with chronic pain, you may visit the links below:
Psychology Today- is website that allows you to search for therapists by zipcode or city.
American Chronic Pain Association- provides information and resources to those suffering from chronic pain
U.S. Pain Foundation- offers in-person and call in support groups through their affiliated organization, Pain Connection.