How Chronic Pain And Mood Are More Connected Than You Think
By Clayton Adams, M.D.
Chronic pain can be a really frustrating condition to live with, and we want to do everything in our power to help you get some relief. We know it comes in all shapes and sizes, but one thing is almost always certain; that your chronic pain and your mood work hand-in-hand.
One of the reasons I love working here at APC is because we’re a multidisciplinary pain clinic, meaning we have multiple specialties all under one roof. This means that instead of a patient coming to us, but then us having to re-route them to another clinic, most pain management protocols can happen under one building, maintaining patient records, saving time, and making the pain management experience less stressful. When chronic pain strikes, we’re here– whether it’s under our discipline, or one of our colleagues’.
We’re going to talk a little bit about what general chronic pain is, how we approach it, and how I explain to patients that our chronic pain and our mood are more closely related than we think. Just with many diseases and afflictions, something happening in one part of the body can directly affect something happening in another.
Before we get into it, it’s important to note that chronic pain has a lot to do with nerves. If nerves are firing– even if an actual injury has healed– pain could still occur, causing responses to even acute pain to happen. Chronic pain can happen from a whole array of different things, from genetic disorders to surgeries to injuries to posture to lifestyle. No matter where it comes from, that pain can make day-to-day life a lot more challenging and stressful than it should be.
How Does Chronic Pain Impact the Body?
Pain is, in theory, your body’s response to a harmful stimulus. It reacts to an injured part of your body to tell the brain that something isn’t right. But in many chronic pain conditions, while the underlying cause of pain might be gone, your brain still misinterprets some signals that it’s getting. Though apparent injury or pain is gone, nerves are still firing, and as a result, you’re still feeling that discomfort that’s making seemingly simple things much more difficult.
And when it comes to chronic pain, discomfort can happen far beyond just where the pain is. Your body produces stress hormones, so it could start lifting your blood sugar. Your pain can affect your immune system, so it could start becoming more and more difficult to fight off viruses.
And as all of this happens, there’s one root cause that I see happen with my patients with pain– it impacts their mood. What I like to say is “mood and pain go hand-in-hand,” and from my experience, it’s almost always the case with my patients, no matter what type or severity their chronic pain is at. Anxiety, depression, lack of energy– all of these things can come together to increase the perception of a patient’s pain, cause difficulties in their body’s natural way of functioning, and affect the way they’re feeling emotionally.
From a general view, pain happens within nerves, but with a broader lens, you can attribute many other ailments to chronic pain. It affects the cardiovascular system, the endocrine system, and the nervous system. It could impact sleep, digestion, the ability to lose weight, and so much more. And just like I mentioned above, that’s where your mood comes in.
If we can’t sleep, we might feel grumpy, tired, or stressed out the next morning, affecting the way we treat our family or do our jobs. If we’re not digesting properly, we could feel even more discomfort in our stomach. If we can’t lose the weight like we want to, our self-confidence might not be as high as it can be, promoting even more severe mental ailments like depression. See, though these all seem like they’re “in our heads,” it’s linking directly to our chronic pain. And because mood is such a powerful contributor to how we feel, it could be the reason we’re constantly spiraling downwards, feeling down on ourselves, then in more pain, then upset because we’re feeling pain, then feeling pain because we’re upset.
So, How Can I Get Help With My Chronic Pain?
The most important step is to get help sooner rather than later. Of course as pain specialists, we want your pain to go away for good, but we also recognize the other potential damages that it could be doing to the body, like sleep deprivation or increased stress, which certainly shouldn’t be happening long-term either. (So if you’re reading this and some of these symptoms are speaking to you, let’s talk!)
Now, let’s talk about some frequent confusions with patients: going to their primary care doctors for chronic pain.
Primary care doctors can typically spot the downstream effects of the chronic pain, like high blood pressure or mental ailments like depression. The problem with this is that they’re addressing the effect, rather than the underlying cause. And at a point, it makes sense– they weren’t trained to deal with pain management as a speciality.
But what’s important about seeing a doctor who specializes in pain management is recognizing that we specialize in different parts of pain, and are trained to help you with it. Unfortunately, many of our patients come in feeling pain far longer than they should because they’ve been asking their primary care physician questions that they might not be answering. By prolonging the process of seeking the help of a specialized doctor, they’re only sitting in that pain longer.
So, what should you do? Go to a speciality pain care clinic, specifically, a multidisciplinary clinic, so you can get help from a variety of different specialties if need be. (If you’re in Texas, check out our locations.)
How a Multidisciplinary Clinic is Different
As a multidisciplinary pain clinic we have multiple departments all under one roof. That means if you come here or to a multidisciplinary pain clinic near you for one speciality, but in fact learn that you need the help of another one, you’re more than likely able to get fast service– even as fast as a quick trip upstairs or a simple text message– so you can get to the root of your chronic pain faster.
Going to a multidisciplinary clinic also means that there’s typically no paperwork shuffling from clinic-to-clinic, no waiting weeks or months for an appointment with a different specialist, and less wait time experiencing the pain that needs attention in a timely manner. You’ve already spent so much time dealing with the pain– there’s no reason to have another headache running around to different doctors.
So, those are my thoughts and findings on chronic pain and mood. Take this as a sign if you haven’t already to check out some of our locations and set up an appointment to start getting to the bottom of your pain.
As always, pain is inevitable; suffering is optional. We hope to see you here soon!