Chronic Pain and Mental Health

We all experience pain from time to time. Biologically speaking, pain is a warning sign to tell us something is wrong. It is motivation to figure out what is going on so that it can be dealt with. For some people though, pain is more than just a temporary discomfort. It is chronic and potentially debilitating.

One of the least understood aspects of pain among my patients is its relationship to mental health. Studies have proven that people who suffer from chronic pain are more likely to also suffer from one of several mental health issues. Moreover, the relationship between chronic pain and mental health seems to be bidirectional.

Depression, Anxiety, Substance Abuse

A study published by the Mayo Clinic back in 2016 examined the relationship between chronic pain and mental health disorders within the general population. Researchers looked at epidemiological studies that covered everything from tobacco use to antisocial behaviour and their relationship to pain.

Researchers discovered that people who suffer with chronic pain are more likely to also suffer from depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. For example, 35-40% of chronic arthritis pain sufferers also suffer with depression and anxiety. Some 12% struggle with substance abuse.

Fibromyalgia patients exhibit even higher numbers:

  • Up to 80% are diagnosed with depression
  • Up to 60% are diagnosed with anxiety
  • Up to 25% struggle with substance abuse.

Chronic Pain is Stressful

The point of speaking about this is not to scare you. Rather, I want you to know that I understand how stressful chronic pain is. Chronic pain can interrupt nearly every aspect of your life to the extent that you truly have trouble functioning. I understand just how very real it is.

Please know that there are ways to manage chronic pain. As a leading London arthritis doctor, I regularly work with patients to manage their pain so that it does not overwhelm their daily lives. I would be honoured with the opportunity to help you as well.

Evidence has shown that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) helps to manage and control chronic pain. I nearly always recommend this to my patients who suffer from chronic pain and fibromyalgia. CBT is a form of talking therapy that can help manage underlying problems such as anxiety and depression by changing the way that you think and behave. It is important to really engage with this form of therapy to see its benefits for chronic pain. If the underlying mental health issue is not treated then chronic pain will simply not be controlled and most likely worsen.

Exercise, Sleep, and Diet

Pain medications are definitely a possibility in most cases of chronic pain. However, I hesitate to rely exclusively on medication due to its inherent risks. I encourage my patients to work with me to enhance medication by concentrating on exercise, sleep, and diet.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, exercise is extremely helpful in managing chronic pain. Exercise is especially beneficial for nearly every form of arthritis in as much as it reduces stiffness. Regular exercise also increases flexibility and strengthens arthritis-damaged joints. All of these benefits can reduce pain.

Another recommendation I give my patients is to do their best to get regular, restful sleep. Yes, it is sometimes difficult to sleep when you are suffering from chronic pain. But if a patient can work through it and establish a solid sleep pattern, he or she almost always notices a reduction in pain.

Lastly, some patients benefit from a modified diet. There are certain kinds of foods capable of aggravating chronic pain, so the idea is to limit their intake. Likewise, there are other foods that can help to reduce pain. Those are the foods we want to concentrate on increasing.

I understand how difficult it is to live with chronic pain. If you are looking for help to manage pain and take your life back, please contact my London office right away.

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