Are You Depressed?

How Depression and Back Pain Intertwine

Peer Reviewed
Depression affects people worldwide. The World Health Organization states that depression affects about 121 million people. It is a complex emotional disorder that is common in patients who suffer chronic back pain. The connection between back pain and depressive disorders is something researchers are studying. In a study conducted by the University of Alberta, it was revealed that back pain is twice as likely to recur in depressed patients. Besides a depressed mood, there are feelings of hopelessness, guilt, and worthlessness. But there is good news. Many different medications and talk therapies are helping patients with depression to lead fuller, happier and more productive lives—even with back pain! - SpineUniverse Editorial Board Commentary

Depression and chronic back pain often intertwine. Therefore, it's important to be aware of the signs of depression so that you can address it as early as possible.
Doctor speaking with depressed male patient.Depression and chronic back pain often intertwine. Therefore, it's important to be aware of the signs of depression so that you can address it as early as possible. Photo Source: is important to understand that depression and sadness are different. The death of a loved one, loss of a relationship, termination of a job, including retirement, will cause us to feel sad. Grief is a normal response to these situations. Individuals experiencing challenging times will often remark that he or she feels depressed. However, sadness, grief and depression are not the same. Feelings of sadness and grief will lessen with time while depression can continue for months and years, if untreated.

Does This Seem Like You?

Read the following list and put a check mark next to each symptom that you are experiencing: 

  • I am really sad most of the time
  • I don't enjoy doing the things I've always enjoyed doing
  • I have difficulty sleeping at night
  • I often feel fatigued
  • Getting up in the morning is challenging
  • I feel better as the day goes on compared to when I first awoke
  • My eating habits have changed: Generally, I eat more than usual or I eat less than usual
  • I have very little, if any, sexual energy
  • I am very forgetful throughout the day
  • I find it hard to focus on the simple things of life. Even counting change has become challenging
  • I often feel angry
  • I feel anxious, and fearful with no apparent reason
  • I prefer to stay alone rather than socialize
  • I feel pessimistic about life in general, and am not sure I want to continue living
  • I feel disappointed in myself
  • I feel bad (physically and emotionally) most of the time
  • I have thoughts about my death
  • I think about how I might kill myself 

How Is Depression Treated?

Medicine: Anti-depressants may take several weeks before you begin to feel better.

Talk therapy: Talk therapy helps you to change the way you think, feel, and behave to support you in feeling better.

Tips for Day-to-day Living While Moving Through Depression

  • Set reasonable goals for yourself
  • Set priorities; do what you can
  • Break large tasks into small ones
  • Take everything at your own pace
  • Stay connected with others
  • Take walks and exercise if acceptable to your physician
  • Shift pessimistic thinking to hopeful thoughts 

Addressing Depression Can Also Help Your Back Pain

Back pain can sometimes feel as if it's taken over your life:  taking away your ability to work, socialize, and do activities you used to enjoy.  And this change in your life can lead to depression.

We're here to remind you that depression and back pain do not have to control your life.There is help for you.Talk to your doctor about depression treatments (either medications or counseling), and take charge of your back health today.

© 2006 by Margaret McCraw, PhD, author of Tune Into Love

Commentary by Lawrence M. Kamhi, MD, FIPP

Dr. McCraw's article correctly identifies the coexistence of depressive affect in some patients with chronic spine pain. Pain physicians should be on the look out for the symptoms of depression lurking beneath the surface in some of our patients. When such symptoms are detected, it is in the patient's interest for the pain physician to recommend a consultation with a qualified mental health professional.Teamwork is the key. I have personally observed the pain physician and mental health professional generally work well together on the patient's behalf. Such teamwork makes for a good final result.

Updated on: 01/27/19
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Tame Stress to Reduce Neck and Back Pain
Lawrence M. Kamhi, MD, FIPP
Interventional Pain Management
Spine and Interventional Pain Management
Nanuet, NY
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