The link between depression and bodily pain is not imagined. Depression causes actual physical pain; and chronic pain often results in depression.
It’s a vicious cycle: the more pain you feel, the worse your depression becomes, or as your depression worsens, the more physical pain you experience. Does it matter which comes first, depression or pain? Probably not, because if they are both present, they both need to be addressed and treated.
The Link Between Depression and Pain
People who suffer from depression may experience headaches (including migraines), back pain, joint pain, pain in the arms or legs, stomach aches/gastrointestinal discomfort, and fatigue. Unfortunately, these physical symptoms may be the only symptoms they feel (in other words, no emotional component is readily apparent), making depression difficult to properly diagnose.
The link between depression and pain is more than just “cause and effect”. There’s a biological explanation for it. The source of depression and the source of pain are the same. Serotonin and norepinephrine are neurotransmitters that influence both mood and pain. (Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that communicate information throughout your brain and body.) Dysregulation of these neurotransmitters is linked to depression and pain. (source: NCBI)
The Role of Antidepressants
Obviously you’ve heard of people with depression being prescribed antidepressants. But have you also heard of someone with unexplained body pain being prescribed antidepressants by their doctor? That may seem strange at first, but it happens! Since the source of pain and depression are the same, often the treatments are the same too.
Antidepressants are designed to raise levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine. One type of antidepressant is called a Reuptake Inhibitor. Reuptake is the process whereby neurotransmitters are naturally absorbed back into nerve cells in the brain after they’ve been released to send messages between nerve cells.
A reuptake inhibitor prevents this from happening. Instead of getting reabsorbed, the neurotransmitter stays — at least temporarily — in the gap between the nerves, called the synapse.
What’s the benefit? The basic theory goes like this: keeping levels of the neurotransmitters higher could improve communication between the nerve cells — and that can strengthen circuits in the brain which regulate mood.
… and pain.
(source: Web MD)
Other types of antidepressants called Tetracyclics stop neurotransmitters from binding to nerve receptors, which causes a buildup of serotonin and norepinephrine in the synapse, making neurotransmitter levels rise.
It should be noted, however, that antidepressants alone do not often provide a patient with what’s called “full remission”. They may be temporarily helpful in the process, but should not be solely relied upon for treatment. (source: NCBI)
If a person has been diagnosed with depression, they may be tempted to believe (or even told) that their physical pain is only psychosomatic (caused or aggravated by their emotions). But be careful, because failure to treat the physical symptoms as well as the emotional ones will not produce lasting results.
When treating mood disorders such as depression that are frequently associated with painful physical symptoms, the pain component of treatment needs to be given full consideration. Symptom relief that does not include relief of pain may result in an incomplete or false remission.
Chronic Pain and Depression
If you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic condition such as arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, MS, cancer, etc. — or you suffer daily pain from an accident or injury — you are likely working on a treatment plan for your physical symptoms. But remember, it’s crucial that you do not neglect the emotional component to your pain. You have probably felt the sadness, anger and frustration of not being able to function in daily life as you once could. If left unaddressed, you can quickly decline further. Sufferers of chronic pain can spiral downward even to the point of becoming suicidal.
Psychotherapy, physical therapy, medications and more — all these can be helpful to someone suffering from depression and pain. Make sure you choose healthcare providers with a holistic approach to treating your symptoms.
If you suffer from unexplained body pain, chronic pain, or depression, please call today. We can help you get your life back!