Back Pain and Depression: Is there a Link?
Emotions are an integral part of assessing and treating chronic pain. But most people don’t think about that.
There is a strong link between back pain and depression.
People struggling with chronic back pain are likely to get depressed. Those who are depressed have worse pain and a harder time recovering from that pain.
The funny thing is, most people with back pain don’t even realize they’re depressed. They think the reason they’re feeling so hopeless and irritable is their physical pain.
So let’s take a look at how back pain and depression build off each other and make matters worse.
What Is Depression?
Many people think of depression as just a “mental illness.” Yet, this condition can negatively affect the way you act and cause physical problems.
Depression leaves a person feeling constantly sad or blue.
In most cases, it makes someone lose all interest they had in previous hobbies or activities. People with depression slowly become less able to function normally.
The effects of depression can be debilitating. Sufferers can find themselves stuck with serious, chronic back pain, even if there’s no obvious, physical reason for it.
But these feelings of sadness are more than just feeling down for a while. Symptoms of serious depression will occur every day for at least two weeks, and even longer than that.
There are many different symptoms of depression, such as:
- A lasting mood of depression, sadness, and hopelessness
- Changes in appetite and weight
- Changes in sleeping pattern
- Loss of interest in usual hobbies
- Loss of interest in sex
- Feeling guilty or worthless
- Trouble concentrating or remembering
- Thoughts of death or suicide
What Is Chronic Pain?
Acute pain happens when you get an injury, such as breaking your wrist, and leaves when that injury has healed. Chronic pain, on the other hand, doesn’t go away even after the injury is gone.
Minor cases of chronic pain will last three to six months. Sometimes, chronic pain can last for years without the right treatment.
This constant pain leaves a person feeling physically and mentally frustrated and exhausted.
The Vicious Merry Go Round
Back pain and depression are linked in a circle of sorts.
A person with chronic back pain is likely to develop some measure of depression, and the depression will actually make the pain worse.
Similarly, a person who is already depressed can develop back pain, and that pain can result in deeper depression.
Back Pain Causes Depression
Chronic pain can be a debilitating illness to live with, which brings on depressive symptoms.
For example, back pain may make it difficult to fall asleep at night. This can make a person irritable and exhausted during the day.
A person with back pain will also be unable to get around how they used to. The pain will make them slow and careful, meaning they’re unable to work. This includes both work outside the house and normal household chores like cleaning and cooking.
This forces them to spend a lot of their time indoors away from other people, which makes them isolated.
On top of not being able to partake in enjoyable activities, a person may also feel added financial stress. This usually happens if they are unable to continue working or care for the family.
This frustration can lead to thoughts of failure.
Pain medication can also keep a person in a kind of dull or dazed mind. Added with the pain, this makes it difficult to remember things and think clearly.
How Does That Equal Depression?
Notice how each of these circumstances result in a symptom of depression. Because a person feels these symptoms every day, along with hopelessness and sadness, they often get depressed.
As the pain and depression grow, the person goes through something called physical and mental deconditioning.
Basically, the person feels less and less control over his own life. This makes him feel controlled by the pain, which results in stronger depression.
Depression Causes Back Pain
People who struggle with depression as a result of back pain have what is known as reactive depression. The depression reacts to the physical pain, which can happen in those who have no previous history of depression.
On the other hand, people who have a history of depression are more likely to experience chronic back pain.
Depression actually makes back pain worse and keeps it from going away. Even if there is a way to fix the problem, people with depression are unable to heal.
Depression and Spine Surgery
Depression also affects spine surgery outcomes.
If a person struggling with back pain and depression undergoes spine surgery, they may continue to display symptoms after the procedure. This extends the healing time and makes it harder for the patient to recover.
One of the best things to do for a person battling back pain and depression is to postpone the spine surgery until their depression goes away. This will provide the best surgical results in the future.
Treating Back Pain and Depression
Unfortunately, the diagnosis of depression in relation to back pain is often missed because doctors are usually looking for something physical. But doctors cannot effectively treat chronic back pain if they do not treat the depression as well.
The two require a specialized treatment approach because they come as a package.
Most people who have reactive depression don’t even realize they are depressed. They focus all their energy on their physical pain, thinking they will get out of their “funk” when the physical pain is gone.
If you’ve been struggling with back pain and haven’t seen any results from treatment, you might suffer from some form of depression.
It may not be major depression, but it could be minor to moderate depression. Next time you’re at the doctor, ask them about your mental health instead of just the pain you feel.
If you need help dealing with chronic back pain and depression, check out some of our treatment plans. We’ll get you fixed up.