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Do Psychological Problems Cause Chronic Pain?

by: Ann C.Jorn, Ph.D.

Some medical practitioners have the idea that psychological problems predict the development of chronic pain. To date , however, the research does not support this idea (Kuch, 2001 Clinical Journal of Pain, Vol 17, No. 4). The largest link between psychological problems and chronic pain is a history of trauma in a persons life. The study of trauma and its affect on human health is a growing area of study. Essentially the thought is that in some way trauma affects how the body processes stress. But it is unclear exactly how the two relate. Most likely it will take years of research to figure this out. What is important is for doctors to not assume that if the patient just receives therapy for trauma the patient's pain will be cured. Or to label the patient as a "psych" case.

In short there is no evidence to prove that mental health problems predict the development of chronic pain. That is not to say that emotional problems do not affect how one copes with chronic pain. Of course it does. But it is also important to understand that chronic pain can cause emotional problems, especially depression. In fact, the pain centers of the brain actually involve the emotional centers of the brain. So in the brains effort to help a person with pain it uses some of the chemicals designed to manage one's mood. Also, if a person has a history of depression before the development of chronic pain, it is likely their depression will worsen. These people may need an increase in their depression medication. In that chronic pain definitely has an emotional impact, it is considered the the best treatment of a chronic pain condition involves psychological counseling with a provider with expertise in treating people with chronic pain.

Dr. Jorn is an expert in the psychological treatment of those who suffer from chronic pain. She is also an expert in the cognitive behavioral therpay of Rational Emotive behavior Therapy. Helping People Live Successfully with Chronic Pain

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