Ways to Cope with Chronic Back Pain and Depression

depressionIf you’ve ever strained your back lifting something heavy or trying to rearrange your furniture, you know how bad back pain can be. Or maybe you live with chronic back pain…

You’re all too familiar with the agony it can bring and the roadblocks it creates in everyday life. Maybe you’ve been advised to “slow down” or not to do things that could cause more pain. This can really have an impact on your life and even your mental well-being. In fact, recent studies have revealed some insight into the association between chronic back pain and depression.

Chronic back pain and depression


Pain makes it difficult to enjoy your life. It makes it challenging to move, sleep and interact with friends, family and your neighbors. Beyond the actual pain itself, there may be gastrointestinal issues brought on by anti-inflammatory medication, too.

In general, depression is the most common illness linked to chronic back pain. In fact, depression is more commonly witnessed in patients with chronic back pain problems than in patients with acute, short-term pain. The type that accompanies such pain is referred to as major depression or clinical depression. This kind goes well beyond the sadness that would be deemed normal, like the emotion of feeling down for a couple of days.

Instead, the symptoms of major depression occur every day for at least two weeks. They include at least five of the following simultaneously:

  • Feelings of sadness
  • Hopelessness and irritability
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Poor appetite followed by significant weight loss, or increased appetite followed by weight gain
  • Sleep problems – either too much (hypersomnia) or too little (hyposomnia)
  • Poor concentration or memory
  • Loss of interest in your favorite activities, including sex

Back pain, depression link found in our genes

Genetics are behind the link between lower back pain and depression, according to a pair of studies recently conducted by the University of Sydney and Spain’s Murcia Twin Registry and published by the International Association for the Study of Pain. Their studies are the first to examine the true relationship between lower back pain and depression.

Researchers looked at data from the well-established Murcia Twin Registry, which includes about 2,150 Spanish twins. These twin studies offer a unique chance to explain the link between health conditions, simply by eliminating the genetic and environmental factors that led to the conditions in the first place.

Responses to questionnaires helped to determine whether participants with symptoms of depression experienced more back pain. What they found was a clear link between the two. Upon further analysis of what are called monozygotic twins – those who are genetically identical – the association between lower back pain and depression completely disappeared, however.

In the past, studies revealed a consistent relationship between back pain and depression – a combination that may complicate diagnosis and treatment.

Treating depression can help manage chronic back pain

The treatment of the kind of depression linked to chronic back pain demands a more specialized approach. Typically, both should be treated at the very same time and in a multidisciplinary fashion. The treatment of clinical depression, more often than not, should include psychological interventions – things like relaxation and mindfulness training, counseling and antidepressant medication.

Although the results of the latest studies do seem promising, it remains unclear whether common genetic factors lead to people developing both chronic back pain and depression. Additional studies, involving participants who are followed up with overtime – ideally twins – are still needed.

In the meantime, remember to take it easy on your lower back – especially while lifting the garbage. And while you’re at it, be sure to look after your own mental health by enjoying healthy foods, activity and keeping in touch with your friends and family.

Lifestyle Changes for Treating Depression

Research has shown just how important diet can be for mental health, both good and bad. Fruits and vegetables, in particular, have been associated with better mental well-being, which can help to protect not only against mental health problems but physical ones as well.

Along with a healthy diet, physical activity should be high on the list of priorities when looking for depression treatments. A Southern Methodist University study labeled exercise a “magic drug” for patients suffering from anxiety and depression. Research has shown that even low levels of activity such as walking or gardening can help to ward off depression.

Stress can feed mental illness and vice versa, but taking steps to reduce stress in life can help to slow the vicious cycle. Many people worldwide believe in mindfulness meditation as a way of relieving stress. A study from Carnegie Mellon University found that even 25 minutes a day for three days in a row can reduce stress and build resilience.

As with many health issues, sleep can play an important role in the management of stress. Going to bed and getting up at a consistent time can go a long way to making sure you get enough rest. For those who suffer from poor sleep quality, avoid caffeine, practice relaxation techniques, and avoid heavy meals close to bedtime. This will allow for a better night’s sleep and a healthier way to handle stress the next day.

Diet That Will Help Fight Depression

Food can play a significant role in physical as well as mental and emotional health. When struggling with depression, it can be extremely beneficial to incorporate specific foods into a daily diet. For example, walnuts have been shown to support overall brain health, being one of the highest plant-based sources of omega-3 and a great source of protein.

Also, a high source of omega-3’s, chia seeds can provide approximately 61% of your daily recommended amount in one teaspoon while flax seeds can provide 39%. These small seeds can pack a punch when looking for small ways to improve diet and mood.

Beans are also a great addition to any diet as they’re a great source of protein and fiber. These are both excellent ways to minimize blood sugar spikes which can affect mood. Folate which is also found in beans can help the body to use vitamin B12 and amino acids, helping detox cells and creating new cells.

Chicken and turkey are both great sources of lean protein that can help to stabilize blood sugar levels which can help to keep mood well balanced during the day. These trusted sources of lean protein are also known to provide high amounts of tryptophan. This beneficial amino acid can help to create serotonin which assists in maintaining healthy sleep and a balanced mood.

When looking for healthy alternatives to help fight depression, look no further than vegetables. Fiber, folate, and other key nutrients make vegetables a wonderful choice when looking for foods to help improve and stabilize mood. Leafy green vegetables are great sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which is one of the three main types of omega-3 fatty acids.

While there are many foods that should be added into a daily diet to help with depression, there are also just as many that should be avoided. There is a clear link between alcohol and mental health problems, making this one of the most important dietary changes necessary when battling depression.

Convenience foods such as fast food and junk food should also be avoided when battling depression. They are often high in calories and low in nutrients. Studies have suggested that processed foods, especially those high in sugar and refined cards cause the body’s energy levels to increase rapidly but then crash. Therefore, it is always best to opt for fresh, nutrient-dense, whole foods that can provide a steady source of energy over time.

Refined and saturated fats must also be avoided when consuming foods for depression treatment. These harmful fats can trigger inflammation and may also impair brain function and worsen the symptoms of depression.

With mounting evidence against caffeine, it is best to stay away from that morning cup of coffee. Research has found that caffeine may increase feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression. So next time you need a boost, try going for a walk instead of grabbing a cup of joe.

Related Reading:

Depression, anxiety and OCD increase risk of sleepwalking

Depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) increase the risk of sleepwalking. An estimated 3.6 percent of the adult population in the U.S. are prone to sleepwalking. Researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine have found a link between depression, anxiety and OCD as risk factors of sleepwalking. Continue reading…


Physical activity after heart attack protects against depression

New research has revealed that regular exercise after a heart attack can protect against depression. The data, from the Nord-Trøndelag Health Study in Norway, examined 189 patients prior to entering a hospital for a heart attack. The researchers aimed to determine the effectiveness of exercise on depressive symptoms post heart attack. Continue reading…


Author Bio

Mohan Garikiparithi got his degree in medicine from Osmania University (University of Health Sciences). He practiced clinical medicine for over a decade before he shifted his focus to the field of health communications. During his active practice he served as the head of the Dept. of Microbiology in a diagnostic centre in India. On a three-year communications program in Germany, Mohan developed a keen interest in German Medicine (Homoeopathy), and other alternative systems of medicine. He now advocates treating different medical conditions without the use of traditional drugs. An ardent squash player, Mohan believes in the importance of fitness and wellness.