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can chronic pain lead to depression and anxiety

There is no question that physical pain can affect your mental state. No matter how positive of a person you are, being in pain is not something you can simply ignore. In the case of chronic conditions, the emotional impacts can be quite significant. Living with constant pain can dampen your mood, drain your energy and reduce any motivation you have to get better. As a result, it's important to understand how pain can negatively impact your mental health.

What the Research Says

So, can chronic pain lead to depression and anxiety? Not only does research suggest that this is true, but it also suggests that the reverse is true. Anywhere from 30% to 50% of people with chronic pain also suffer from depression or anxiety.¹ Additionally, those with symptoms of depression are three times as likely to report chronic pain symptoms than those without depression.² It can often seem like a vicious cycle. Regardless of what condition comes first, the mental impacts of living with chronic pain are very real and must be addressed.

can chronic pain lead to depression

Chronic Pain and Depression

Depression and chronic pain occur together quite commonly. For example, a condition like fibromyalgia has a strong connection to depression, while also causing widespread pain. Researchers believe this could have to do with neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. These are chemicals released into the nervous system to control pleasure, sleep and stress. Our response to physical and mental pain seems to depend on how our bodies release these chemicals, which could explain why they can be felt together.³

Chronic pain also causes depression through the impact it has on everyday life. When you feel pain all the time, it affects your ability to exercise, socialize and even sleep. Depression can easily set in when these basic aspects of life are taken away. Other signs that depression may be present with your chronic pain are⁴:

  • Lack of interest in activities
  • Constant irritability
  • Changes in appetite
  • Feelings of despair
  • Constantly negative thoughts
  • Inability to concentrate

can chronic pain lead to depression

Chronic Pain and Anxiety

Anxiety is our body's natural way to respond to stress and we have probably all felt it at some point. That said, anxiety can become a serious mental and physical issue when it is constantly present. Anxiety can both cause physical pain and be a product of it. It can cause muscles and joints in our bodies to tense up and tighten, leading to pain. Additionally, it simply makes existing chronic pain feel worse because it's always a point of focus.

Anxiety can set in quickly for those experiencing chronic pain. Signs that your chronic pain has caused anxiety are⁵:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Constantly thinking or worrying about the pain
  • Avoiding social interactions
  • Avoiding any physical activity for fear of making the pain worse
  • Difficulty discussing your pain
  • Avoiding treatments that may cause anxiety

If you're finding that any of these symptoms of depression or anxiety constantly accompany your chronic pain, it is important to seek medical support right away.

What You Can Do

Dealing with the mental effects of chronic pain can be a burden for anybody. Luckily, there are steps you can take to find relief and support:

Talk to a Medical Professional

Talking with your doctor, a physical therapist or a mental health professional can set you on the right course for managing your specific symptoms. They could prescribe medication or an alternative course of action that will relieve pain and its psychological effects.

Have a Support Network

Whether it's family, friends, a peer support group or a therapist, having people to talk to and share your experiences with can help immensely. It's important to realize that you are not alone.

Try to Stay Energized and Motivated

Eating right and staying active can help relieve chronic pain. Talk to your doctor about a diet and exercise plan that will work for your condition. The more energy and motivation you have, the better you will be able to manage your symptoms.

can chronic pain lead to depression

Take Time For You

Find ways to healthily manage your stress and keep your mind active. Get a massage, visit the spa, do some gentle yoga, read a book. These activities can boost your mood and take some of the focus off the pain.

Find More Information

For more information on the mental and physical effects of chronic pain, fibromyalgia and tips on living a healthier lifestyle, be sure to visit DR-HO'S Living Pain Free Blog.

can chronic pain lead to depression and anxiety


  1. Psycom. "Chronic Pain and Depression". Retrieved from https://www.psycom.net/depression.central.chronic.pain.html
  2. Canadian Mental Health Association. "The Relationship Between Mental Health, Mental Illness and Chronic Physical Conditions". Retrieved from https://ontario.cmha.ca/documents/the-relationship-between-mental-health-mental-illness-and-chronic-physical-conditions/
  3. WebMD. "Depression and Chronic Pain". Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/depression-chronic-pain#2-5
  4. Psycom. "Chronic Pain and Depression". Retrieved from https://www.psycom.net/depression.central.chronic.pain.html
  5. Psycom. "Chronic Pain and Anxiety: How to Cope". Retrieved from https://www.psycom.net/chronic-pain-illness-anxiety
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