Pain and depression: Is there a link?

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Pain and depression: Is there a link?

Question

Is there a link between pain and depression? Can depression cause physical pain?

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Answer

Pain and depression are closely related. Depression can cause pain — and pain can cause depression. Sometimes pain and depression create a vicious cycle in which pain worsens symptoms of depression, and then the resulting depression worsens feelings of pain.

In many people, depression causes unexplained physical symptoms such as back pain or headaches. Sometimes this kind of pain is the first or the only sign of depression.

Pain and the problems it causes can wear you down over time, and may begin to affect your mood. Chronic pain causes a number of problems that can lead to depression, such as trouble sleeping and stress. Disabling pain can cause low self-esteem due to work, legal or financial issues. Depression doesn't just occur with pain resulting from an injury. It's also common in people who have pain linked to a health condition such as diabetes or migraines.

To get symptoms of pain and depression under control, you may need separate treatment for each condition. However, some treatments may help with both.

  • Because of shared chemical messengers in the brain, antidepressant medications can relieve both pain and depression.
  • Psychological counseling (psychotherapy) can be effective in treating both conditions.
  • Stress-reduction techniques, meditation, staying active, journaling and other strategies also may help.

Treatment for co-occurring pain and depression may be most effective when it involves a combination of treatments.

If you have pain and depression, get help before your symptoms worsen. You don't have to be miserable. Getting the right treatment can help you start enjoying life again.

Last Updated: 2010-10-07
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