Mind and Body: Depression Can Make Chronic Pain Worse

A new study says fighting depression can also help chronic-pain sufferers with their physical pain.

Doctors estimate about 30 to 50 percent of all patients with chronic pain suffer from depression. And there's growing evidence the depression may make the pain even worse.

"It's almost like the amplifier is turned up -- you feel it a lot more," said Matt Bayazitoglu, of Baylor Medical Center Dallas.

But patients who took anti-depressants were more successful in reducing their pain, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"They're able to more actively engage in therapy sessions," Bayazitoglu said. "They're able to do more things to get off the pain. In addition, it sort of decreases the amplifier, so they don't feel the pain as much."

The approach helped 25-year-old Katelyn Bradwell, who developed reflex sympathetic dystrophy, a painful neurological disorder, after she injuring her leg.

"Sometimes it feels like someone has injected my veins with gasoline and ignited it," she said. "It's just the most intense, burning pain that I can imagine."

It felt like she was dipping her leg from her calf down into a pile of fire ants, she said. The pain was so bad, she couldn't walk her dog -- or even put on a pair of shoes.

Bradwell, who was basically bedridden, began to get depressed.

"When you're in that kind of intense pain, the pain combines with depression, anxiety, because I need to work," she said. "I need to make money. How can I do this?"

But physical therapy, pain management and depression medication helped get her back on her feet.

"I often say that as bad as this has been, that I'm happier and healthier now than I was before I got it," Bradwell said.

"Walking my dog is a gift, and I have all those things back now. I have a normal life," she said.

Doctors recommend that patients with severe pain go to a comprehensive pain center where doctors from different specialties work together to manage pain and depression.

Contact Us