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Chronic pain affects more people than cancer, diabetes, heart attack and stroke combined. Chronic pain can be devastating, and a challenge to treat. It can damage productive lives and tear families apart. It is a complex experience that affects thought, mood, and behavior and can lead to isolation, immobility, and drug dependence. In this way chronic pain resembles depression and the relationship can be intimate!

Depression and chronic pain share some of the same neurotransmitters – brain chemicals that act as messengers traveling between nerves – as well as some of the same nerve pathways, and depression and pain can interact in a vicious cycle. Depression contributes greatly to the disability caused by headaches, backaches, and arthritis. Pain slows recovery from depression, and depression makes pain more difficult to treat. Because chronic pain and depression are so intertwined, they are best treated together.

Pain medication is commonly prescribed to fight both, since pain and depression share similar nerve paths, and antidepressants are also utilized since they sometimes reduce pain sensitivity. A multi-disciplinary course of treatment that involves both a physician and a mental health professional can often provide the best outcome. It’s important for physicians to understand that changes in the physical symptoms of pain can also be related to changes in a patient’s mental state and that common pain treatments like restricting activity can make depression worse. The good news is that there are other effective tools and lifestyle changes to both relieve the symptoms of depression and help manage chronic pain.

Treatment Strategies

Treatment strategies, include exercise, nutrition, stress management and healthy sleep habits. Here are a two more treatments to consider  as you work to cope with and manage both chronic pain and depression:

Physical Therapy

Painful joints can often be treated with therapy. Physical and occupational therapists can help a patient build strength and muscle memory, enabling the patient to regain physical abilities and function. Because psychological processes have an influence on both the experience of pain and the treatment outcome, the integration of psychological principles into physical therapy treatment seems to enhance outcomes. Exercise also can supplement traditional treatments, helping become more focused and engaged. Like antidepressants physical therapy appears to affect the neurotransmitters systems in the brain. If physical exercise could be produced as a pill it could well be the new wonder drug. Read more about Physical Therapy here:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavior therapy can be effective in dealing with depression that’s related to chronic pain. This therapy involve helping the patient to observe their surroundings so that they find things that are enjoyable in their situation even though they are in pain. This allows them to be optimistic and not only focus on the pain in their lives but rather the good in them. Read more about CBT here: