Though the exact reason remains unknown, chronic pain and depression often go together. Since the same areas of the brain process emotional and physical sensations, their link could, at least partly, be located in the brain.
It’s hard to decipher in many cases whether pain or depression came first; depression may sensitize an individual to physical pain, but living in pain can cause situational depression. Regardless of which comes first, it’s likely that the two reinforce one another.
Depression is believed to worsen the prognosis for pain patients. This belief is backed up by a number of studies. One such study, found at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, found that patients with acute (new) lower back pain showed slower recovery progress six months later if they exhibited symptoms of depression. Diagnosing depression early on can help patients with chronic pain recover faster.
In that small study, 18% of participants qualified as depressed. The exact number of pain patients with depression isn’t known, and arriving at such a figure is difficult because many clinicians don’t incorporate mental health assessments into their diagnostic practices despite the clear link between physical and mental health. Part of the reason for this is the fact that health professionals face a long list of factors to consider when diagnosing a patient. Adding another form to the mix may seem too overwhelming, both for the doctor and the patient.
Recently researchers sought to find a simpler, quicker way to assess patients for depression and still deliver accurate prognostic information. They gave 925 chiropractic patients the Major Depression Inventory questionnaire (12 questions) to assess for depression. Patients then pursued treatment with their chiropractors. The researchers then compared the prognostic accuracy of the whole questionnaire to that of individual questions on it. They hoped that the results would yield a single question that health professionals could use to tell whether mental health might impact treatment success.
Nine percent of participants met criteria for depression. Depression did a decent job of predicting prognosis in terms of pain at 3 and 12 months, but a better job predicting activity limitation. The researchers found that two single questions performed about as well as the entire questionnaire: 1) whether patients felt low in spirits or sad; and 2) whether patients had been lacking in energy.
See more on the study at www.chiromt.com.
If health professionals have a quick way to find out whether mental health may be an inhibitive factor in treatment, they can take further steps to either diagnose and address issues or move on to more relevant concerns. Asking a simple question or two doesn’t require any forms, and takes only a few seconds.
Your mental health affects your physical health. Finding a health professional who will take your mental health seriously can lead to more successful back pain treatment.