Can Chronic Pain Cause Depression?

A person with chronic pain sits on a bed in a darkened room

Living a “normal life” becomes impossible with chronic pain. When cooking dinner, grocery shopping, and household chores all require frequent breaks and stretches, the pain’s impact really shows. More than 20% of adults report being in pain almost every day — and, unfortunately, doctors rarely have easy answers.

The links between chronic pain and the decreasing quality of life, along with reduced productivity, lost income, substance abuse disorders, and even anxiety have all been clearly established. Similarly, many people wonder, “can chronic pain cause depression?” and various studies point toward that being the case.

If you or a loved one is dealing with chronic pain, it may be worthwhile looking into chronic pain and depression treatment simultaneously. But before that, here is what you should know about chronic pain and its link to depression.

What Is Considered “Chronic” Pain?

Chronic pain is defined as consistent pain that lasts more than twelve weeks (three to six months) despite the usage of painkillers or other medication. In other words, pain that feels like it’s never getting better is considered “chronic.” It may start as a complication following a procedure or severe injury, or it may be a symptom of another diagnosis such as cancer or multiple sclerosis.

Many people deal with chronic pain for a specific period after a procedure, for around nine months to a year, but others may have to deal with it for their entire lives. Sometimes chronic pain is recurring, returning in different seasons or when certain activities exacerbate the underlying condition. Treatment plans must be sustainable and safe for long-term use.

The Relationship Between Chronic Pain and Depression

The precise connection between chronic pain and depression is hard to pinpoint as depression is already correlated with many of the lifestyle changes and daily difficulties that result from debilitating pain.

A 2022 study shows that patients with chronic pain are three times more likely to have depression than individuals who have no chronic pain. The same study reveals that as chronic pain becomes more severe, the risk of becoming depressed increases.

Besides depression, chronic pain has also been linked with anxiety and cognitive decline. While the exact reason why chronic pain can cause depression has not been understood, researchers believe that changes in the nervous system could be a factor. Chronic pain can cause imbalances with hormones and ultimately change how a person’s nervous system functions, which can lead to a lowering of a person’s mood or loss of interest in activities.

But it has also been speculated that lifestyle changes resulting from chronic pain, such as lack of exercise or long periods of inactivity, can also induce depression. Chronic pain can also lead to a lot of difficult decisions for people who are affected by it, including choosing to give up activities or hobbies that they once enjoyed. Over time, these decisions can also result in the development of depression.

Depression As a Cause of Pain

Chronic pain and depression impact both the physical and emotional well-being of an individual, so much so that it can be impossible at times to say which one came first. When talking about possible chronic pain and depression treatment options, it’s important to understand the root cause of the issues. It’s common for people who are dealing with depression to complain of feeling bodily pain more often than others.

According to a 2019 study, abnormal pain perception and modulation may be the reason why those dealing with depression complain of pain. While not all types of depression result in increased complaints of pain, there are signs that specific types of depression can lead to an imbalanced perception. While this may not prove that depression causes chronic pain, there is no denying that depression can magnify pain perception and make it impossible to continue with a normal lifestyle.

Physical and Genetic Factors

While depression doesn’t just happen because of an injury, people who are suffering from a consistent ailment like arthritis may experience both chronic pain and depression at once. It can be different for everyone, and common causes of chronic pain include:

  • Muscle, bone, or joint conditions
  • Osteoporosis
  • Arthritis
  • Migraines
  • Side-effects of cancer treatment
  • Complications following a medical procedure or surgery
  • Injury that can lead to the development of scar tissue
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Being overweight or having poor posture
  • Aging of the spine

For depression, the causes can be highly varied but can include:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Physical or emotional abuse, especially if done over formative years
  • Aging
  • Grief arising from the death or loss of a loved one
  • Sudden job loss or financial insecurity
  • Constant anxiety
  • Social isolation

Both depression and chronic pain are complex conditions with numerous contributing factors. It’s important to consult a medical professional for treatment recommendations.

Symptoms to Know About

While the relationship between chronic pain and depression has been established, many people do not see the symptoms of one as indicative of the other. A person with any of these symptoms could be dealing with pain and depression:

  • High levels of stress (or hormones causing stress)
  • Muscle pain
  • Inability or lack of desire to do daily errands/tasks
  • Fatigue and exhaustion
  • Lack of sleep or changes in sleeping patterns
  • Mood fluctuations
  • Trouble with concentrating or focusing
  • Feelings of despair, guilt, or self-harm

Finding Relief from Chronic Pain and Depression

For those dealing with chronic pain and depression, the combination of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms can take a significant toll.

There are various treatment options for depression and chronic pain including therapy, counseling, mindful meditation, and prescriptions — including medical marijuana.

Studies have shown that specific strains of medical cannabis can be used for pain relief and mood alleviation. Research has also suggested that using medical marijuana can lead to a better quality of life through symptom reduction and a decrease in opioid use.

Regarding the use of opioids to treat chronic pain, patients should be aware that consistent use of opioids can lead to worsening depression. Cannabis is widely viewed as a safer, holistic alternative without the damaging or addictive side effects of opioids.

Choosing a Strain

Many patients prefer hybrid strains for managing the symptoms of chronic pain and depression. While indica strains are often recommended for pain relief, hybrids give the added benefit of being more uplifting and energizing.

CBD topical creams are a popular over-the-counter treatment for chronic pain. Applying the cream directly to the inflamed or painful area can lead to fast-acting relief. Plus, CBD creams are available without a prescription.

Learn More from Texas 420 Doctors

If you have questions about your conditions, treatment plan, or medical cannabis, contact us online or call us at (833) 420-1710. You can also view all of our hemp-based products — no prescription needed to shop.

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