The Connection Between Pain, Inflammation and Depression

Acupuncture Chapel Hill, NC

Stress from pain or mental distress creates inflammation which exacerbates pain and depression- a link recognized by Chinese for millennia but only recently acknowledged by western medicine. The stress-pain-inflammation connection is real; but, diagnosis and treatment frequently do not reflect this critical fact. People who have high levels of stress or pain or inflammation can get confused and have trouble thinking clearly or sleeping well or coping with life. Acknowledging that stress and physical pain can cause depression is an essential first step to get patients the help they need.

From a Chinese medicine 5 Element perspective, injury or mental stress consumes water channel yin resulting in excess fire consuming heart yin. Increased pain and inflammation extinguish joy. Recent medical research shows that body inflammation crosses the blood-brain barrier causing brain inflammation resulting in a neuronal conflagration, confusion, and withdrawal, all hallmarks of depression. Some people with higher levels of chronic pain withdraw into alcohol or pain medications or other drugs in an attempt to reduce their symptoms. These can create a downward spiral as they increase inflammation and decrease the person’s ability to deal with problems, sleep soundly or make good choices.

This new understanding of the broader cause of depression from stress and injury can help practitioners and family and friends improve their patients, and loved ones recover more fully. Recognize that sleep and rest are necessary to heal. Reliance on pain medications that mask pain may be helpful to allow sleep, but long term use causes dependence can result as well as increased risk of injury to already destabilized body regions.

Some anti-inflammatory medications have demonstrated effectiveness in reducing both pain and depression. Inflammation lowering products can reduce heat volatility in the body as well as in the brain, affecting the cause of both anxiety and depression in those people. For instance, NSAIDs have been shown to reduce pain and improve the antidepression effects of medications in some people who have pain and are also taking antidepressive medications. So-called COX2 inhibitor drugs have been shown to reduce both — anxiety and depression in certain types of patients. The connection between anti-inflammatory usage is increasingly recognized.

Unfortunately, not every prescribed remedy has this beneficial dual effect, and some anti-inflammatory products have their side effects and can’t be used continuously. For instance, corticosteroids are used primarily to reduce inflammation, but they also inhibit the immune system, negatively affect calcium absorption, and can increase blood sugar. NSAIDS and COX2 inhibitors increase the risk of infections and cardiovascular events.  One needs to assess the risk-benefit of any treatment at all times.

Dietary and lifestyle steps to reduce inflammation can work to reduce pain and depression and should be used whenever possible benefit the patient without side effects. Patients are advised to take all steps possible to get restorative sleep and eat a regular healthy diet to reduce stress. Other measures to consider include: walk in nature, eat small meals, soak in lavender scented Epsom salts, avoid confrontations and other stressful life events including loud noise and distressing television; and take time to meditate, read supportive literature or reflect on life. Herbal concoctions such as ashwagandha or rosemary have been clinically shown to reduce the stress hormone cortisol.

It is possible to reduce pain and inflammation and stress causing depression. If you aren’t able to achieve these goals on your own, contact a professional for help.

Contact Acupractic Natural Healing Center for more information on how to reduce pain, inflammation, and depression.

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