Who suffers chronic pain the most? How is this related to mental health?

Estimated Reading Time: 2 Minutes

Chronic pain is a signal to your nervous system from your brain. It is a signal that something is wrong with your body. Chronic pain can feel like a prick or a tingle or even a sting. The pain might be sharp or dull. Pain can be felt in one part of the body or all over the body. Pain can be categorized as acute pain or chronic pain. Acute pain tells you that you are injured while chronic pain may last for weeks, months, or even years. The original cause for chronic pain could have been an injury or infection, but researchers believe there is no clear cause.

Typically, older adults have chronic pain. Women are known to have more chronic pain than men. Women are at a greater risk of having any type of pain in general. At some point in one’s life, they will experience pain. Living with daily pain is physically and emotionally stressful. Chronic pain changes the level of stress hormones and neurochemicals that are found within one’s brain. These can influence mood, thinking, and behavior. This disrupts the body’s balance of these chemicals which can bring on depression in some people.

Researchers have conducted a study on the prevalence of mental health conditions in those with chronic pain. From this research, we can see that chronic pain has been linked to activity limitations, dependence on opioids, anxiety, depression, and reduced quality of life. Research shows that people with chronic pain are four times more likely to have depression or anxiety than those who are pain free. According to the research, In 2016, approximately 20 percent of U.S. adults had chronic pain (approximately 50 million), and eight percent of U.S. adults (approximately 20 million) had high-impact chronic pain.

Some chronic pain conditions and their association with mental health include:

  • Arthritis: Arthritis is an inflammation of one or more of your joints. It causes disabling pain and there are more than 100 different forms of arthritis.
  • Specific mood and anxiety disorders occur at higher rates among those with arthritis than those without arthritis.  
  • Fibromyalgia: Fibromyalgia is a chronic multi-symptom disease where the brain and spinal cord process pain signals differently. For those who have FM, touch or movement that does not normally cause pain for others causes pain for those with FM. 
  • Multiple Sclerosis: Multiple sclerosis is nerve damage that disrupts communication between the brain and the body. It is the most common chronic disabling central nervous system disease in young adults, affecting 1 in 1,000 people in Western countries.

-Sanaa Dalvi

Author at STEMTalksNC


“Chronic Pain and Mental Health.” Mental Health America, 30 Apr. 2019, http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/chronic-pain-and-mental-health.Sources:

“Chronic Pain.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 12 June 2019, medlineplus.gov/chronicpain.html.


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