Could talking it out help relieve your pain? According to recent studies, it might. It might also make living with chronic pain less challenging and debilitating.

Pain is a subjective sensation that's experienced both in your head and in your body. Your brain incorporates your mood, state of health, anxiety level and other emotional components while processing pain sensations and transmitting messages about how to handle it. Since pain is processed along many of the same neural pathways the brain uses to process emotions and mood that may increase how much pain we feel. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford demonstrated that when people are depressed or feeling sad, they experience more pain than when they're feeling upbeat. The authors speculated that a sad emotional state disables our ability to regulate negative emotions associated with feeling pain, which may make the pain feel worse.  

Other studies demonstrate that talk therapy, both in-person and over the phone, are effective in dramatically reducing  chronic pain. Cognitive behavioral therapy is particularly successful because it teaches patients to recognize the way they think about their pain, change their thoughts and behaviors associated with it and observe how those changes impact their pain level. Patients who participated in studies that utilized cognitive behavioral therapy reported dramatic improvements that were not reported by patients using traditional medical treatments.

Patients who live with chronic pain have unique emotional challenges and increased stressors that healthier people do not experience. Chronic pain can cause sleep deprivation, low self-esteem, anxiety, make performing daily tasks and maintaining a job difficult, alter relationships and cause isolation.  It's no wonder then that 25-50 percent of pain patients report depression and 65 percent of depressed patients report pain. 

Many pain management clinics incorporate individual and group therapy into their patients' care plans to help strategize coping techniques and deal with the emotional impact of living with pain. Patients report that this type of emotional support improves their quality of life and makes the challenges of living with chronic pain more manageable. 

If you have a chronic pain condition, talk with your doctor about your risks for depression and ask for recommendations for therapists with experience treating pain patients.


Induction of Depressed Mood Disrupts Emotion Regulation Neurocircuitry and Enhances Pain Unpleasantness.

Biological Psychiatry, 2010; 67 (11): 1083

Chantal Berna, Siri Leknes, Emily A. Holmes, Robert R. Edwards, Guy M. Goodwin, Irene Tracey.   

Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center

Managing Chronic Pain, Depression & Antidepressants:
Issues & Relationships

Michael Clark, M.D., M.P.H.