The Relationship Between Chronic Pain and Mental Health

               Everyone will experience pain at some point in their lives.  This may be caused by any number of illnesses or injuries, but pain is not meant to last for a long duration. Pain that is temporary (less than 6 months) is what we call, acute pain.  But when pain becomes ongoing, and lasts longer than 3 to 6 months, we call it chronic or persistent pain. Chronic pain generally has a much bigger input on life overall and often is associated with other conditions like anxiety and depression.  This usually results in poorer measures of quality of life.

How Common are Mental Health Conditions in People Living with Chronic Pain?

               Studies have shown that people living with chronic pain are 4 times more likely to experience depression and anxiety than those who are not. A study in the US showed that approximately 20 percent of adults have chronic pain, and 8 percent of adults have high-impact chronic pain.  High impact chronic pain means that the pain lasts longer than 3 months and Is accompanied by a major activity restriction (such as working, performing chores in the home, going to school).  People in this category report more severe pain and a much higher incidence of mental health problems.

Common Pain Conditions Associated with Mental Health

Arthritis: There are more than 100 different types of arthritis.  The most commonly seen types are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriatic arthritis. Due to pain and limitations in movement and physical function, people with severe arthritis may have challenges in completing daily tasks or even participating in self-care or social activities.  This frustration and isolation often lead to conditions like depression. 

Fibromyalgia (FM): This is a chronic illness with varying symptoms that impacts the way the body’s nervous system processes pain signals. In this case, touch or movements that would normally not cause pain can be painful, or something that would cause minimal pain normally would cause severe pain in an individual with FM. This often causes widespread pain in the joints, muscles and bones as well as general fatigue. FM affects about 2-3 percent of the population (mostly women), and often affects mental health, social functioning, energy and general health. The risk of anxiety disorders (such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)) are 5 times higher in women with fibromyalgia than in others.

Back/Neck Pain: Although pain in the back and neck can be attributed to many things, and may be associated with acute or chronic pain, it’s common for chronic pain in the back and neck to lead to serious effects on a person’s functional status.  Symptoms may even include tingling, weakness or numbness in the arms and legs, balance problems, coordination and walking issues or bowel and bladder control. Mental health conditions have been shown to be more common in people with back and neck pain, specifically backaches and headaches have been shown to most often be associated with major depression. 

Chronic Migraines: If a migraine lasts for 15 or more days in a month for more than 3 months, it’s considered a chronic migraine. With chronic migraines there is an increased rate of mental health disorders in general, especially major depressive disorder and anxiety disorder.


               For these conditions, treatment needs to be multidisciplinary and multifaceted. Each person should be evaluated individually to determine the proper treatment, but as a general rule, the following treatments can be helpful overall:

  1. Antidepressant medication – may relieve both depression symptoms as well as pain.
  2. Talk Therapy – Psychotherapy can be effective in managing the
  3. Stress-Reduction Techniques – There are many coping strategies one can employ including exercise, meditation, dance, yoga, journaling, etc.
  4. Pain Rehabilitation Programs – a pain treatment program designed to specifically treat the physical conditions present.

If you or your loved one is struggling with any of these conditions, call us at PCA today for a comprehensive assessment and treatment plan.

Leave a Reply