Pain and Depression: How Chronic Pain Leads to Depression

Study Demonstrates How Chronic Pain May Lead to Depression

Our followers on social media, as well as the participants in our forums, often share with us that they struggle with debilitating depression because of their chronic neck or back pain.

People who live with chronic pain and depression also deal with:

We hope you know you are not alone. We provide our forums and social media platforms as a way to help Spine-health community members support and learn from one another.

Another way to cope with chronic pain and depression is to understand how the two affect each other, which can help you deal with both conditions.


A 2008 study showed that chronic pain may actually rewire the brain, making sufferers more susceptible to depression

A study from 2008 demonstrates the neural activity that takes place in a chronic pain sufferer, and how that activity can lead to depression.

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The 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 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 published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

For help dealing with chronic pain and depression, contact your doctor and take a look at some of our other resources:

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