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How Chronic Pain Relief Positively Affects Your Mental Health

How Chronic Pain Relief Positively Affects Your Mental Health

This content was medically reviewed by Baher S. Yanni, MD, on October 13th, 2021.

If you have chronic pain, you already know it impacts your physical health. But did you know it also influences you mentally? Those with chronic pain sometimes experience mental health conditions — and some mental health conditions can even worsen your chronic pain. Keep reading to learn how you can alleviate your chronic pain and improve your mental health.

What Is Chronic Pain? 

When you feel pain, it’s essentially a signal from your body telling you something is wrong. In some cases, you won’t need to visit your doctor, like when you hit your knee against a table. Other, more serious situations require medical care. Either way, you expect the pain to subside after your body heals. What happens when it doesn’t? That’s chronic pain — due to specific issues, such as nerve damage, migraines or inflammation, you may continue experiencing pain for months after the injury or incident.

How Does Chronic Pain Affect Mental Health?

Certain mental health conditions often coincide with chronic pain. For example, symptoms of depression and anxiety are common. A cause-effect relationship isn’t always clear — for some patients, mental health disorders are a consequence of living with chronic pain. Others have preexisting mental health issues beforehand. According to chronic pain statistics, those who experience chronic pain are three times more likely to develop psychiatric symptoms such as mood disorders. 

Chronic Pain and Depression 

Many people with chronic pain experience major depressive disorder. Though different types of depression exist, each encompasses some of the following symptoms: 

  • Persistent sadness
  • Feeling hopeless or pessimistic
  • Feeling “empty” or “blank”
  • Irritability
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Slow talking or moving
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Appetite or weight changes
  • Suicidal thoughts

How Are Pain and Depression Linked? 

Depression and pain connect in complex ways. Pain is debilitating, isolating and frustrating, which can cause depression, and depression can make the experience of pain much worse by affecting neural pathways. When someone is depressed, the brain struggles to divert signals of both physical and emotional pain.

In that way, the disorder can intensify and perpetuate chronic pain. Often, those with depression only seek care for their physical pain, leaving their depression undetected and untreated and limiting doctors’ ability to treat chronic pain. 

Chronic pain and depression feed off one another. Finding pain management techniques can help reduce depression symptoms, and seeking treatment for depression can help reduce chronic pain.

Chronic Pain and Anxiety 

Many of those with chronic pain also experience anxiety. Like depression, anxiety can worsen your pain. While occasional anxiety during stressful situations is normal, an anxiety disorder is a serious condition. Anxiety disorders cause intense and excessive worry during everyday situations. 

Any of the following symptoms can occur with an anxiety disorder:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Fast, shallow breathing
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Excessive sweating

How Are Pain and Anxiety Linked?

Both pain and anxiety are primitive survival mechanisms. Pain signals the need to repair part of the body and anxiety signals impending danger. However, chronic pain and anxiety disorders can hinder everyday life rather than helping someone survive. Anxiety that coincides with pain tends to take on one of the following forms:

  1. Catastrophising: This form of anxiety involves dwelling on the worst possible outcomes of a situation. Those with chronic pain may excessively worry about pain’s possible causes and effects. They may avoid everyday situations for fear of worsening their pain.
  2. Hypervigilance: Hypervigilance causes someone to fixate on their pain, inhibiting their ability to focus on anything else.
  3. Fear-avoidance: Someone with chronic pain may avoid activities or movements they expect to worsen their pain, which can make physical rehabilitation difficult. Another term for this is kinesiophobia — the fear of specific movements.

Anxiety and Depression 

Many patients with chronic pain experience both anxiety and depression. Each of these conditions cyclically feeds off the others.

The isolation and limitation of chronic pain can lead to or worsen depression. Alternatively, the lethargy, changes in appetite and sleep disruption of depression can make chronic pain more intense. Constant and worsening chronic pain can lead to anxiety — and the emotions that stem from depression can make you anxious about changing your situation.

Breaking this cycle requires medical care to treat both your physical and mental health.

Chronic Pain and Substance Use Disorders 

Chronic pain also has a strong association with substance use disorders. Many chronic pain patients rely on substances, prescribed or otherwise, to relieve their pain symptoms, which can increase the likelihood of developing a substance use disorder.

What Drugs Do Chronic Pain Sufferers Misuse? 

Many chronic pain sufferers receive a prescription for a form of opioid. Opioids create a flood of dopamine, a chemical associated with positive feelings. Over time, someone with chronic pain may take enough opioids to develop a tolerance, meaning they’ll need to take more for the same effect. Taking more and more opioids to relieve pain symptoms can lead to addiction.

How Are Substance Use Disorders Connected to Mental Health? 

Substance use issues often coincide with mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder. Some patients use substances to cope with the symptoms of mental illness, which may result from chronic pain. As you can see, all of these conditions are interconnected, often exacerbating each other.

Treating Your Chronic Pain and Mental Health

Dealing with chronic pain can help alleviate the symptoms of mental health conditions, and seeking care for your mental health can help reduce your chronic pain.

Seek Counseling Services 

Counseling services can help you identify and respond to mental health concerns. The counselor will recognize symptoms of depression, a history of traumatic events, anxiety and possible substance misuse issues. Ultimately, they can help you identify and address any mental health concerns you’re facing. They’ll offer strategies for focusing less on the pain, staying optimistic and coping with depression. Building your mental health can help you become more resilient when dealing with chronic pain and may even lessen the pain you experience.

Meet With a Pain Specialist 

You should also meet with a chronic pain specialist at the Spine INA. We’ll help you identify the root of your pain and discuss possible treatment options, such as: 

  • Radiofrequency ablations
  • Steroid injections
  • Sympathetic nerve blocks
  • Platelet-rich plasma injections

Using one of these treatment methods to reduce your chronic pain will help improve your mental health. It’ll give you more confidence to live life to the fullest, without anxiety, depression and substance dependency weighing you down. 

Schedule an Appointment With the Spine INA

Coping with chronic pain can cause mental health issues, and mental health issues can make pain feel worse. It may feel like an unbreakable cycle, but you can take steps to strengthen your mental health and alleviate your pain. Schedule regular counseling to address your mental health concerns, and meet with a pain specialist for possible treatments.

At the Spine INA, our physicians provide a welcoming, caring environment to help you heal. They’ll formulate a care path for you, using the least invasive procedures. Dealing with your chronic pain will allow you to get back to regular life, improving your mental health. If you’re ready to address your chronic pain, contact the Spine INA today.


  1. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/depression-and-pain
  2. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/
  3. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/204946371000400103
  4. https://spineina.com/blog/why-opioids-arent-the-best-solution-for-back-pain-management/
  5. https://spineina.com/pain-evaluation/
  6. https://spineina.com/contact/

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