Tips to Manage Chronic Pain and Depression

Depression plays an important role in chronic pain. For many people, the constant feeling of pain can consume their bodies and minds, leading to stress and depression. As time goes on with no improvement in the pain, depression can potentially worsen. When pain worsens, stress and depression symptoms escalates, creating a never-ending cycle of depression and pain symptoms that can be impossible to break. By following a few important steps, pain patients can have more control over their lives and fight off chronic pain and depression.

What is Chronic Pain? 

Chronic pain is defined as any pain that persists for longer than 12 weeks despite medical treatment. Chronic pain affects 1 in 5 Canadians, or roughly 6 million people. It can affect people of all ages and all parts of the body.

Even with current technology, it isn’t possible to test in advance whose pain will become chronic. Some factors such as stress, anxiety, unhappiness, and sometimes hereditary factors can increase the likelihood of chronic pain development. But some people can also experience chronic pain despite healthy medical tests. Chronic pain is still a developing area for doctors and medical professionals all over the world.

The Link between Chronic Pain and Depression

If you currently suffer from chronic pain, don’t panic because chronic pain doesn’t necessarily always lead to depression. However, pain and depression are closely related. Depression can sometimes cause pain — and pain can sometimes cause depression. It is not an exact science, but both disorders can wear you down over time, affect your mood, and make you susceptible to other medical conditions.

4 Steps to Proactively Tackle Depression

Here are several steps to proactively prevent or manage chronic pain and the associated depression symptoms that may progress.

1. Early diagnosis of pain-related depression

Most physicians are not trained to evaluate depression during the course of treating pain. However, speaking to a physician about depression can, at the very least, alert him or her to consider treating both conditions. Your physician may be able to refer you to a specialist who handles pain-related depression cases.

As mentioned before, the scientific link between depression and pain is not exact. However, acute pain patients who show signs of depression and stress, or who have a history of clinical depression may be more vulnerable to developing a chronic pain.

Therefore, it is advisable for pain patients to speak with their doctors if they experience any of the following common symptoms of depression:

  • A sad or anxious mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Lack of interest in previous passions or hobbies
  • Difficulties sleeping
  • Changes in appetite
  • Low energy or a lack of motivation

Similarly, people exhibiting symptoms of stress-related back pain should also speak with their doctor:

  • Back and neck pain
  • Muscle aches
  • Tender muscles
  • Sleep disturbance and fatigue
  • Pain shifting around the body
  • Worsening pain just before, during, or after a stressful event
  • Fibromyalgia-like symptoms

2. Identify stress triggers for chronic pain

Identifying stress or emotional triggers that affect your pain is key to pain management. At the very least, you can prevent pain from worsening by avoiding or eliminating certain stress triggers. Common stress triggers include:

  • Experiencing heavy traffic
  • Arguing with your spouse
  • Long meetings at work 

A great way to manage pain is by keeping a pain diary. Throughout the day, keep track of your stress and anxiety levels, and how your back pain changes. This exercise can provide clues for better pain management and help you identify parts of your life that affects pain the most. For example, you may find that your back hurts the most between 4 to 5pm when you are driving home in heavy traffic. But when you drive the same path at night time, your pain is manageable. In this case, the stress from traffic may be causing your pain to worsen. Try arriving at the office earlier and leaving earlier to avoid traffic hours. Write a journal entry to record how your pain is affected by the new schedule.

Identifying how stress affects pain empowers you and provides you with the ability to lessen pain without pain medications.

3. Speak out about depression

Although depression and mood swings due to chronic pain are quite common, many patients do not speak to their physicians about these symptoms. Maybe because they believe depression will go away once the pain subsides. Or maybe because their friends and family members told them depression is all in the head.

Regardless of the reason, depression, if left untreated, can affect your life in many ways, including:

  • loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • disrupted relationships with friends and family
  • financial distress
  • loss of a job

Every negative event contributes to even more feelings of hopelessness and depression that can linger beyond the resolution of your pain problem. Furthermore, depression can affect the intensity and frequency of pain symptoms, as well as the healing rate. Therefore, we recommend you talk to a physician at the first signs of depression. Doing so will enable the physician to assess your situation more accurately and provide appropriate care for a better chance of full recovery.

4. Request multi-disciplinary care for depression and pain

Multidisciplinary treatments are defined as medical treatments provided by practitioners from different disciplines. In the case of chronic pain, a multi-disciplinary treatment can involve both a physician and a mental health professional. These types of treatments can provide you with the best odds for defeating chronic pain.

Throughout the course of treatment, both pain and depression symptoms are monitored simultaneously, and both doctors communicate about how each area affects the other.

Most physicians today understand that changes in physical pain symptoms can be related to changes in a patient’s mental state.

Sometimes, a physical therapist can also be involved. This is because chronic pain can also be exacerbated by physical de-conditioning due to lack of exercise. An appropriate exercise program can be an effective technique to help prevent the pain from worsening.

Can Kratom Help With Chronic Pain?

According to many anecdotal reports, kratom can be used for a wide-range of effects, and is often used to provide a relieving experience. Results from a recent online survey in the U.S. found that advocates for kratom tend to be middle-aged, middle-income people living with pain.

As of 2020, kratom is not regulated in Canada and not intended for human consumption or the treatment of any medical condition, despite falling under the natural foods’ category of products on the government website. Therefore, we recommend people conduct their own research and consult with a healthcare professional. Many users regularly share testimonials online on sites like Reddit and Twitter