Now new research findings confirm this. The recent study, conducted at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, found that physical changes in the brain caused by chronic pain are likely to lead to depression as well as other pain-related symptoms.
In the study, the researchers demonstrated that the wiring in the brain of someone dealing with chronic pain is different than that of pain-free individuals. In a the brain of a pain-free individual, all the regions of the brain exist in a complementary state, meaning that if one region of the brain is active the other regions are at rest. But in people with chronic pain, a front region of the cortex mostly associated with emotion is constantly active.
"The areas that are affected fail to deactivate when they should." said Dante Chialvo, lead author and associate research professor of physiology at the Feinberg School. "They are stuck on full throttle, wearing out neurons and altering their connections to each other."
"If you are a chronic pain patient, you have pain 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every minute of your life," Chialvo said. "That permanent perception of pain in your brain makes these areas in your brain continuously active. This continuous dysfunction in the equilibrium of the brain can change the wiring forever and could hurt the brain."
Chialvo hypothesized: "It could be that pain produces depression and the other reported abnormalities because it disturbs the balance of the brain as a whole."
Importantly, Chialvo notes that the research findings "show it is essential to study new approaches to treat chronic patients not just to control their pain but also to evaluate and prevent the dysfunction that may be generated in the brain by the chronic pain." The research results are being published in the Journal of Neuroscience.