Chronic Pain and Associated Depression

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Chronic Pain and Associated Depression

Chronic pain can be an extremely devastating and debilitating disorder. Most people understand acute pain.  That is, you have an injury or surgery and your body reacts in a way to help you heal.  There are times, though, that the pain doesn't go away with the healing from the injury or surgery.  When the pain lasts more than 6 months after the cause has been treated, then it is considered to be "chronic pain".  No one knows exactly why chronic pain develops in some, but not others who have experienced some trauma.  Approximately one in four people over the age of 40 in the U.S. are affected by chronic pain.

Chronic pain tends to lead to depression, partly because of the depressing nature of living with chronic pain and all of the associated losses.  For example, you may no longer be able to participate in activities you once enjoyed,  So lost is your opportunity to socialize with friends or others who have similar interests, such as those in your gardening, running, cycling or hiking groups.  

Then one's thinking begins leaning toward the negative, even if they are typically a more positive person.  For example, "I can't live like this", "I never thought I'd end up this way",  "No one seems to get it how awful I feel",  We know that negative thoughts lead to negative emotions, which then affects one's motivation to practice behaviors that may be helpful to both their mental and physical state.  It is somewhat paradoxical (especially to those living with chronic pain) that movement, including moderate exercise, can help alleviate the pain.  So it is important to stay as active as is possible without worsening your pain.

It is important to seek help from a licensed mental health professional if you experience depression, where you feel stuck in negative thought patterns &/or you lose motivation to even do activities that may help you feel better emotionally and physically.  Depression is known to then worsen the pain and it can become a downward spiral.  Also, when a family member is living with a chronic pain condition, the whole family is affected.  Therefore, family therapy is indicated, and the spouse, children, or even the parents may be seen, either alone or with their loved one.    

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