In recent years, physicians have realized that treating chronic pain requires a holistic approach. Looking at the patient as a whole person, rather than a set of symptoms, enables doctors not only to deliver compassionate care but also to identify issues that a strictly medical diagnosis might miss. A major finding of this research is the extent to which your mental state can have an impact on your experience of physical pain. Treating the sources of emotional distress, as well as the physical manifestations of pain, can help patients achieve better outcomes.
Depression and Pain
Pain — whether localized or felt throughout the body — can actually be a symptom of clinical depression. This physical issue can have cumulative effects, as chronic pain can disrupt your sleep, appetite, and your ability to do regular activities. This can become a cycle, as being debilitated by chronic pain can deepen depression. Even in the absence of a prior history, chronic pain on its own can bring on depressive symptoms, making it potentially difficult to know which came first. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression as well as chronic neck and back pain, seeking treatment for depression — which can include talk therapy and medication — can help you to better manage existing pain and to have a better prognosis following a treatment like minimally invasive laser spine surgery.
Stress and Pain
Stress can also be coupled with chronic pain. Back or neck pain that limits your ability to engage in hobbies, perform your best at work, or be an active parent can lead to aggravation and mood problems. Stress is also especially likely to cause physical pain. Your body’s stress response causes your blood vessels to constrict, limiting the flow of oxygen to your muscles and tissue. This can result in pain, tenderness, and stiffness. If you have a tendency to clench your teeth or ball your wrists when stressed, this can also trigger pain in the cervical (neck) spine. Finding ways to manage stress — whether through relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga, or by using cognitive-behavioral therapy to identify and deal with triggers — can help alleviate chronic pain symptoms.
Anger and Pain
Anger has a similar effect on your body to stress, though fortunately anger is generally more short-lived. Intense anger can have an immediate impact throughout the body — your heart races, you might feel nauseous or dizzy, your appetite will disappear, and a flushed face may make you feel as if your blood is literally boiling. If anger is a regular issue, chronic pain may become a problem too (and one that gives you reason to get angry). Identifying anger as a problem, and working to understand your response can help you better handle different situations as well as potentially easing your pain.
If you are experiencing chronic back and neck pain, it’s important that you consider all of the possible complicating and contributing factors including your emotional health. One way that you can track this is with a pain journal — in addition to the location and intensity of the pain, what you were doing, and where you were, you can also make note of how you felt. It’s a chore, but this kind of record-keeping can help you better understand the roots of your pain and find the treatment you need. If you are looking for compassionate care for chronic pain, call the Spine Institute Northwest at 206-496-0630.