Back pain is one of the most common reasons people seek medical attention. Unfortunately, chronic back pain may also lead to emotional distress as well, which can worsen the pain you are already experiencing. It is normal to experience a range of emotional reactions, such as anxiety, fear and worry due to back pain.
One of most common emotions associated with back pain is depression, including major depression, which goes beyond typical sadness or feeling “blue” for a couple of days. There is a significant link between stress and pain, so to help minimize emotional distress, it is essential to ask your neurosurgeon any questions you might have about your pain and scheduled spinal surgery. Understanding your back pain will help to relieve any fear or anxiety you're feeling.
Overcoming the Emotional Effects of Pain
One of the main causes of the anxiety and fear that you might experience with back pain is due to not knowing the underlying cause of your pain. The uncertainty, as well as the pain itself, can have a significant impact on your everyday life. Asking your neurosurgeon questions about the condition, treatments (such as spinal surgery), and the expected outcome are essential in dealing with the emotional distress that is associated with the pain. Learning the answers to your questions is also beneficial for a faster and more comprehensive recovery. Questions you should ask your neurosurgeon include:
- What is the underlying condition and what is causing it?
- What form treatment is best?
- How successful is spinal surgery?
- How long will it take to recover?
- When will physical therapy begin and how long will therapy continue?
It's not enough to simply ask these types of questions, you need to understand the answers. Make sure you write down as much information as possible so you can carefully review the details later, which might help you to fully understand the reason for your pain.
A Vicious Cycle
Unfortunately pain often causes stress, the stress increases the pain, which leads to more stress and the cycle continues. The more chronic your back pain is, the more vicious the cycle becomes, increasing your emotional distress and often leading to major depression. The cycle can be extremely difficult to break, but there are options available. Your neurosurgeon might recommend you to a psychologist or psychiatrist to help alleviate the emotional distress. Some of the signs of major depression resulting from pain may include:
- Inability to work
- Feeling helpless
- Periodic crying spells
- Change in appetite (eating too much or too little)
- Change in sleep patterns (insomnia or too much sleep)
- Low energy/fatigue
- Problems with concentration
- Loss of interest in usual activities
- Suicidal thoughts
The good news is there are treatments available for both the back pain and the emotional distress it causes. It is important that you follow the treatment recommended by your neurosurgeon, therapist and/or psychologist. It is also important to understand the source of the pain, the consequences of the condition, including the future outlook and the possible treatment options. Getting enough sleep is important for helping to relieve both the pain and the emotional distress. Keep in mind that anxiety, depression and fear are all normal responses to severe pain, but with professional help, there are a variety of treatment options available.