Chronic Back Pain and Depression

How likely is it that someone with chronic back pain will also suffer from depression?

At one time or another, the vast majority of adults in the U.S. will experience pain in their lower backs. Affecting four out of five of all Americans, the overall consequences of lower back pain are significant, personally and economically. During any given three-month period, it is estimated that 25% of all adults will suffer from low back pain. Lost time at work and the resulting decrease in productivity and income are responsible for this condition topping the list of causes for workplace downtime.

Most people suffer from acute back pain, which means pain that lasts for a few days or even several weeks and then gradually goes away. When pain persists longer than 12 weeks, it moves into what is known as chronic pain. Fortunately, only a small percentage of people, approximately 20%, with lower back pain fall into this category. Some can be successfully treated, while others will require a treatment plan that focuses on pain management. 

One of the additional complications associated with chronic pain, and especially with chronic back pain, is the incidence of depression that often accompanies it. If the pain is acute, or short-lived, the normal feelings of frustration and irritability usually subside along with the lessening of the pain. However, with chronic pain, the anxiety and stress never go away. Major depression commonly goes hand in hand with chronic pain. A Canadian study found that adults with chronic back pain were three times more likely to experience depression than those without it. In the U.S., it is estimated that 65% of those diagnosed as depressed claim to be in some sort of physical pain.

People with chronic back pain are constantly aware of their pain and the resulting loss of abilities and quality of life. The more intense the pain, the greater the tendency to avoid movements that might make it worse, which inevitably leads to physical deconditioning. This cycle results in actually adding to the level of pain, lowering the ability of the body to function and interfering with treatment. These individuals are also often preoccupied with fears about the future and the possibility of increased vulnerability and helplessness.

Shared Impact of Chronic Back Pain and Depression

When chronic pain is accompanied by depression, a wide range of problems are set in motion and tend to become part of the cycle. Some of these include:

  • Mood fluctuations and changes
  • Irritability and anger
  • Level of pain is more intense
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of confidence and self-esteem
  • Fear
  • Impaired sexual interest
  • Insomnia
  • Weight gain (or loss)
  • Relationship issues, personally and professionally
  • Financial worries

More often than not, lower back pain will take care of itself in a fairly short time. That said, it is important to consult with your physician sooner rather than later if there is any indication that the pain is persisting. There are medications and procedures that may help lessen the effects of both the pain and any accompanying depression. At Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine, our physicians are committed to more than just treating your symptoms. We strongly believe that each individual is best served through an integrative treatment plan. We focus on finding the underlying cause and providing non-surgical, evidence-based solutions tailored to your specific condition and needs. If you are experiencing back pain or have questions about any other service, we invite you to schedule a consultation by using our convenient online form by clicking here.