It is well known that physical pain can lead to depression, but now a study from the University of Alberta shows that depression can likewise lead to physical pain, resulting in a nasty cycle that is difficult to shake.
Dr. Linda Carroll, a professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences, led the study that shows depression is a risk factor for onset of severe neck and low back pain. The study is published in the journal Pain.
Carroll and her colleagues followed a random sample of nearly 800 adults without neck and low back pain and found that people who suffer from depression are four times as likely to develop intense or disabling neck and low back pain than those who are not depressed.
"We've known for a long time that pain can lead to depression, and now we're finding that each is a risk for the other," Carroll said. "Both conditions are recurrent, that is, they can both come and go; and both are very common--in fact, only 20 per cent of the population has not experienced any neck or low back pain in the past six months--so it's important to try to deal with these conditions before they become troublesome and lead to a vicious cycle."
Carroll is now interested to figure out why the two conditions are commonly related, and she is focusing her research on the coping methods of people with depression, a condition researchers have long known to be associated with physical ailments.
There are two broad ways people can cope with pain, Carroll said. One is to be passive, which entails such things as withdrawing from activities because of the pain or wishing for better pain medication. The other is to be active, which entails getting exercise and staying busy, for example.
"We're wondering if depression leads people to cope passively when they experience the kinds of mild pain episodes that most of us are periodically subject to. This in turn may increase the likelihood that pain will become a problem in someone's life. The next step is to answer this question," added Carroll, whose research is sponsored by the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research.