Everyone has experienced some form of pain before, it is a natural and important function of the human body. Fortunately it often passes relatively swiftly, when the cause of the pain has been identified and removed. Chronic pain is any pain which last for more than three months; it can range from being vaguely annoying to severely debilitating. Chronic lower back pain is a particularly common issue, with 1 in 5 people across Europe saying that CLBP affects their day-to-day lives (1).
Living with chronic pain can be mentally, physically and emotionally draining. Chronic pain may also lead to insomnia, fatigue and mood swings. Properly managed, however, chronic pain does not have to stop you from living an active, healthy and full life.
There are many causes of chronic pain, which can be the result of both physical and mental health conditions. Arthritis, cancer, multiple sclerosis as well as poor posture, repetitive strain injuries and nerve damage might all cause chronic pain. Fibromyalgia is often characterised by chronic pain. Although the pain experienced is very real, it is debated whether the condition is at root mental or physical. Because of this debate it can be very difficult to identify, live with and cure chronic pain.
Chronic pain often develops as a result of a mental health condition. It can both be a symptom of a mental health condition, and a cause. Chronic pain and depression are often closely linked. Depression can result in chronic pain, a physical manifestation of psychological symptoms, and the stress of living with chronic pain can easily cause someone to become depressed.
Chronic pain may be a symptom of other common mental health problems, such as anxiety, bereavement, suppressed anger, and emotional overwhelm. Chronic musculoskeletal pain (CMP) and PTSD are highly co-morbid.
According to the 'shared vulnerability model', psychological and biological vulnerabilities interact with a traumatic experience to produce an emotional response characterised by hypervigilance, cognitive biases, and avoidance. Attentional bias for threat therefore exists in both PTSD and CMP; specifically, individuals with PTSD and CMP attend quickly to diagnosis-congruent stimuli but subsequently avoid such stimuli, thus maintaining symptoms of anxiety and pain (2).
Dealing with chronic pain can be immensely stressful and tiring. If you are developing any symptoms of anxiety or depression, or any other mental health condition, you should address it by visiting your doctor and/or a therapist or counsellor. There is more information about counselling for chronic pain below, but there are also other things you can do to help yourself.
It is important to manage your stress and emotions, as they can worsen or even prolong your chronic pain symptoms.
Chronic pain can be mentally and emotionally, as well as physically, debilitating. A person with chronic pain may resist the idea that the root of their pain is emotional and mental, rather than purely physical, out of fear that they will be seen as 'making the pain up'. Whether rooted in a physical or mental/emotional problem, the pain of chronic pain is real.
Counselling for chronic pain will help an individual challenge unhelpful thoughts about their pain, offer them a space to talk about the impact of their chronic pain and offer them the relief of talking to an objective listener about the problem, away from those who put, sometimes unintentional, pressure on you, such as children, partners and employers.
Chronic pain can also prompt feelings of grief, as you mourn the loss of activities that once came easily. A counsellor or therapist can help you work through these complicated feelings.
Talking therapy is a good solution to the many issues that may accompany chronic pain, such as insomnia, anxiety and depression.
(1) Glombiewski, J. A., Holzapfel, S., Riecke, J., Vlaeyen, J. W. S., de Jong, J., Lemmer, G., & Rief, W. (2018). Exposure and CBT for chronic back pain: An RCT on differential efficacy and optimal length of treatment. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 86(6), 533–545. https://doi-org.uoro.idm.oclc.org/10.1037/ccp0000298.supp
(2) Carleton, R. N., Duranceau, S., McMillan, K. A., & Asmundson, G. J. G. (2018). Trauma, pain, and psychological distress: Attentional bias and autonomic arousal in PTSD and chronic pain. Journal of Psychophysiology, 32(2), 75–84. https://doi-org.uoro.idm.oclc.org/10.1027/0269-8803/a000184
Last updated on 29 July 2020