The Connection Between Chronic Pain, Depression, and Fibromyalgia
There are many disorders that can affect you for the rest of your life. These chronic health conditions are hard to manage, and they can reduce your quality of living if you don’t know how to deal with the problems.
Chronic pain, depression, and fibromyalgia are all chronic disorders, and they can serious hamper your lifestyle if you’re not on top of them. But did you know that the three are all linked? Many of the people suffering from fibromyalgia also suffer from chronic pain and depression, and chronic pain can lead to depression and the development of fibromyalgia symptoms.
Here’s everything you need to know about these three problems and how to deal with them as best you can…
About Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is any pain that lasts more than 3 to 6 months. We’re not talking the pain of a minor injury, but pain that persists for long periods of time. The pain doesn’t have to be intense–in fact, a lot of the time, chronic pain stops being acute after the first few weeks and develops into a dull ache (think of the pain of arthritis).
What are the most common causes of chronic pain?
- Back problems
- Joint problems
- Sinus pains
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Nerve or muscle pain
All of these types of pains start out as an acute sensation, but may develop into chronic pain.
Chronic pain can take an emotional toll on the body as well. Stress, anger, depression, and fatigue may result from the long-term pain! More on that later…
Depression isn’t just something that you can ignore; it can be a pretty serious health condition that requires professional intervention.
Simply put, depression is a state of “low mood” or “aversion to activity”. When you are depressed, you often feel like doing nothing and avoiding all human contact. This can serve to further the depression, reducing your desire for activity and social contact even further. It affects as many as 10% of the American population!
Depression is a persistent feeling of sadness, as well as a low physical state. It is common for depressed people to lose interest in the things that they once found highly fascinating or exciting. When depressed, it’s hard to get excited about anything!
Symptoms of depression include:
- Angry outbursts or irritability
- Anxiety and restlessness
- Difficulty thinking and concentrating
- Suicidal thoughts and actions
- Suicidal thoughts and actions
- Unexplained pains
- Lack of energy and fatigue
- Sleep disturbances
But what causes depression? To be frank, science just doesn’t know!
Depression is characterized as a mental disorder, but it’s one that isn’t fully understood. Doctors don’t truly know what’s behind depression. However, some things believed to contribute include:
- Imbalanced brain chemistry
- Changing hormones
- History of depression
- Traumatic life events
Chronic pain can also lead to depression (something we’ll explore a bit later on…)
Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder, one that also isn’t fully understood. Those suffering from fibromyalgia experience pain all over their body–in muscles, joints, and bones–as well as sleep difficulties, memory problems, and mood instability (depression being one of the problems).
It’s believed that fibromyalgia is a disorder that amplifies the pain signals being sent to your brain. The disorder strengthens the signals, and it affects the way your brain processes those signals.
Interestingly enough, the problem is more common among women than men. It often develops after an infection, surgery, a physical trauma, or some emotional stress or trauma. In other cases, there is no sudden onset of the disorder, but it builds up over time with no visible trigger.
Some of the symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
- Fatigue and exhaustion
- Sleep difficulties
- Widespread pain
- Cognitive impairment
- Lower back pain
- Abdominal cramps
Another symptom of fibromyalgia: depression.
How are they connected?
If you’ve been paying close attention to the information above, you’ll have noticed that all of the disorders have a few things in common. They’re all connected to each other!
When you suffer from chronic pain, depression is a common symptom. When suffering from depression, it’s not uncommon to develop pains–many of which can turn chronic. With fibromyalgia, the chronic pain can be present alongside depression.
How common is this? According to the University of Nevada School of Medicine, 34% of patients suffering from fibromyalgia also suffer from depression.
According to David Fiore, MD, “Depression and/or anxiety have been found to be in 30-50% of patients that have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Mood disturbances and difficulty concentrating have also been attributed to fibromyalgia, but are also common complaints with depression.”
So how are these three connected? Why does chronic pain often lead to depression, and vice versa?
Well, according to WebMD, chronic pain can take an emotional toll on your body as well as a physical one. When you are suffering from pain, you feel stressed and anxious because of the present, persistent pain. This can lead to emotional instabilities, thanks to the high levels of stress hormones produced as a result of the chronic pain.
When suffering from chronic pain (such as that caused by fibromyalgia), you may have a hard time sleeping. These sleep difficulties can lead to fatigue, which also affects the way your body processes pain. The lack of sleep and the presence of stress hormones will reduce your body’s production of natural painkillers, and it may actually amplify the pain.
It ends up being a vicious cycle: the more pain you feel, the more depressed you are, so the more pain you feel, so the more you suffer from depression.
Worse still, chronic pain can dampen your immune system. Add to that the stress hormone caused by the pain and depression, and your immune system will have no chance of protection your body from invading threats!
Read more about: Stress and the Immune System
Michael Roizen, MD, states, “Sometimes depression leads to changes in the chemistry of the brain. Or depression can cause abnormalities of the sympathetic nervous system that result in the release of substances that cause more sensitivity to pain. It is thought that the ongoing chronic pain of fibromyalgia may cause feelings of depression. Many chronic illnesses can lead to depression if the person has ongoing pain or other symptoms that disrupt their quality of life.”
How to treat the problems
While there is no cure for chronic pain, there are many things you can do to manage and cope with it:
- Relaxation training can help you learn how to breathe so as to relax your muscles and manage your pain.
- Biofeedback is a technique that can reinforce relaxation training and help you manage chronic pains.
- Distraction techniques will help you get your mind off the pain.
- Hypnosis or self-hypnosis may be able to reduce pain and promote relaxation.
Spine-Health has some excellent mental exercises for dealing with chronic pain and depression…
Well Wisdom’s Glutathione supplements can help you to manage your chronic pain, depression, and fibromyalgia. They can help you deal with the fatigue that stems from your disorder, and will make it easier for you to continue with your activities of daily life without suffering from the pain and depression that will reduce your quality of life.
Yoga and Chronic Pain
Yesterday I talked about how to understand chronic pain, how the body receives pain and how the pain is resonated physically, emotionally, and mentally throughout the body. Today I want to talk about how yoga and chronic pain are connected in a healing way.
A few weeks ago my husband suggested I start taking yoga to help ease my chronic pain. He knows I’m all about natural treatments and the amazing healing my body is capable of if given the right tools. I thought his suggestion was a great idea!
I did some research and found this article particularly helpful. Dr. McGonigal reviews relaxation breathing techniques and shows you four restorative yoga poses to help heal chronic pain.