Chronic Pain and Mental Health: What Comes First? Body or Mind?

Chronic pain is one of the most debilitating conditions in sufferers’ daily lives. However, this disease goes far beyond the pain itself. The biological and psychological effects and mental stress can be just as serious.

Research has found that individuals suffering from this chronic pain are three times more likely to develop anxiety and depression. In most instances, sufferers think they are going mad because of their mood fluctuations, increased irritability, and other psychological problems.

From this altered mental state, many might ask how to resolve or reduce these mental issues brought on by chronic pain. What should come first? Should you treat chronic pain to ease these mental problems or begin treatments to enhance mental health independent from chronic pain?

The truth is that each person’s body (and pain severity) is different and likely to respond in contrasting ways. Of course, dealing with the root of the problem would be more effective to help to resolve the mental problems brought on by this disease. Nonetheless, this isn’t always the best option and you’re likely to begin combating depression and anxiety while simultaneously performing pain-relieving treatments.

Continue reading to learn more about how pain impacts your mental health on a molecular level.

What Are the Psychological Effects of Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain has a severe psychological impact, which can alter your mind in various ways. Here is one of the most prevalent psychological effects:

Stress Response

Pain works as a survival signal to the brain, which helps you either fight or flight. When you’re in relentless pain, your brain changes chemically and physically. Additionally, your heart rate increases while your blood flow is prioritized to essential muscles. Although the body usually returns to normal once this temporary pain is relieved, chronic pain is different.

This persistent pain prolongs systemic and chemical brain changes, causing noticeable psychological changes, which can impact brain function and result in behavioral changes. Furthermore, prolonged stress response from chronic pain can cause gastrointestinal changes and heart problems.

How Is Your Mental Health Affected by Chronic Pain?

The responsive physical and chemical changes of the brain have a severe impact on the mind’s specific functions. This plays a massive role in mental health changes. Sufferers typically see mental health changes materialize as:

Pain and Emotions

It’s no secret that pain is linked to emotions. In fact, emotional and physical pain exists on almost the same circuitry in the nervous system. Hence, chronic pain is linked with adverse emotional changes.

Enhanced Anxiety

Anxiety is associated with chronic pain because of our body’s natural response to flee or escape this pain. Nonetheless, it’s impossible to escape this pain when suffering from a chronic condition.

Even in times where this pain isn’t present, sufferers might experience anxiety because they are anticipating the return of this pain. This is a crippling and detrimental cycle that drastically reduces an individual’s quality of life.


There’s a strong link between depression and chronic pain. Some medical professionals believe that depression is the result of this constant pain and is structured into our wiring evolutionally. This makes sense because withdrawing from society offers a peaceful environment for our bodies to heal. It’s a safe space away from possible threats and stressors.

However, this chronic pain makes it challenging because the ‘threat’ is internal. The result of such a condition is a nagging depression that can feel like there’s no end. These depression-like symptoms might also be seen as a perception of loss of control, also called adjustment disorder. This results when a sufferer fails to cope or adapt to chronic pain or another perceived stressor.

Nonetheless, depression isn’t guaranteed to occur from chronic pain. An individual’s vulnerability to experiencing depression is also impacted by numerous factors, including genetics.

What Are the Treatments for the Psychological Effects of Chronic Pain?

Medical professionals have created various remedies for chronic pain and the psychological effects that accompany this disease. Sufferers can identify physical and mental relief by taking a combined approach.

Some of the evidence-based therapies used to treat patients suffering from chronic pain are mindfulness training, goal-setting, yoga, and other behavioral therapies. These treatments are known to work because the brain is neuroplastic, meaning that it can be altered. This is hopeful for patients who have suffered chemical and physical changes in their brains.

Certain treatments are therapeutic to specific structures in the mind. A combination of therapies may be required because chronic pain can impact these various structures. Most recovering chronic pain patients generally need physical and behavioral treatments.

Surgery for Chronic Pain

Surgery typically isn’t used in chronic pain cases, unless there are serious neurological complications and severe chronic back pain. In such instances, various implants can be used. However, one implant changing the way lower back pain relief is offered is the TOPS system from Premia Spine.

During the process, pain relief is offered when the surgeon removes the bone elements pressing on these nerves, known as decompression. This system is a mechanical impact device that replaces the soft and bony tissues during this spinal decompression surgery. Unlike other decompression implants, this TOPS system allows you to preserve motion while maintaining stability.

Dealing with the Adverse Mental Health Issues of Chronic Pain

If you’re suffering from relentless chronic pain and the psychological effects brought on by this condition, it can feel like there isn’t an end. No, you’re not crazy for thinking this. Experiencing mood fluctuations, depression, altered cognition (and perceptions), anxiety, and emotional instability are all byproducts of chronic pain.

These byproducts result from perceived stress impacting the body on a chemical and physical level from being in constant pain. This innate response is associated with distinct changes in the chemical and physiology balance of the brain. Meaning, the effects of chronic pain can reach far beyond the pain and can also translate to impacted environmental, social, and personal adaptations.

Nonetheless, there are proven treatments that can be effective in helping reduce these effects. Such therapies focus on altering our mind structures that could be physically impacted by chronic pain. You can reduce the effects of this chronic pain by treating the root of the problem through interventional pain management procedures and medication.

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