How Chronic Pain Causes Depression — And How Ketamine Therapy Can Help

Chronic pain, defined as pain that lasts beyond the normal amount of time it takes for an illness or injury to heal, affects more than 100 million Americans, and costs more than $635 billion a year in terms of medical treatment costs and lost productivity in the workplace. For the many Americans who suffer from chronic pain, depression is a real concern. Chronic pain can cause problems that contribute to depression, including social isolation, inability to participate in activities you enjoy, loss of ability to work, insomnia, relationship problems, and stress.

When depression symptoms do appear in people suffering from chronic pain, they can make the feelings of pain seem more intense — and those intensified feelings of pain can, in turn, contribute to intensified feelings of depression and big decreases inhealth and wellness. But there’s good news — treating depression can also improve chronic pain, making it more manageable if not eliminating it altogether. Ketamine infusion therapy may offer rapid relief of depression symptoms, and may have analgesic benefits, too.


The Chronic Pain-Depression Link

It’s no surprise that chronic pain and depression are linked. It’s hard to feel good about yourself and your life when you’re in too much pain to go to work, enjoy time spent with your loved ones, and do the things that bring you joy. For many chronic pain sufferers, even simple household chores are too much to handle. The changes in lifestyle that chronic pain can bring about can make conditions rife for the development of depression, since the condition often has its roots in social isolation, relationship problems, and situational unhappiness.

But the neurologic roots of depression also link this mood disorder to chronic pain. Depression itself can cause physical pain symptoms, including back pain and headaches, which can have no identifiable physical cause. That’s because mood regulation and pain reception share similar neurophysiologic roots, involving some of the same nerve pathways and neurotransmitters. A person who suffers from depression is more vulnerable, on a physiological level, to chronic pain, and person who suffers from chronic pain is more vulnerable to depression.

When Pain Medications Make Things Worse

It doesn’t help that many of the drugs prescribed to treat chronic pain can, over time, actually make pain worse. Benzodiazepines and opioid medications, in addition to being dangerously addictive, can cause nerve signals of pain to intensify with prolonged use. That’s because these medications block the transmission of pain through the nervous system, but the nervous system isn’t so easy to fool. Pain is a symptom that something is wrong, and when drugs are used to block the transmission of pain signals, the nerves will gradually send stronger and stronger signals. They are literally shouting to get the brain’s attention.

Treat Depression to Treat Chronic Pain

Because depression can intensify feelings of physical pain, treating depression can often go a long way towards relieving chronic pain symptoms. Many people find relief from depression symptoms — and chronic pain — through antidepressant drugs. Even when depression treatment doesn’t completely eliminate chronic pain, it can make the symptoms much more manageable — so much so that many chronic pain sufferers find themselves once again able to enjoy life.

However, antidepressants don’t work for all depression sufferers. Between 30 and 40 percent of people with depression experience little or no relief of symptoms when they take conventional antidepressant drugs. For these folks, ketamine infusion therapy might be the answer.

Ketamine was developed in the 1960s for use as a surgical anesthetic. Because it doesn’t cause respiratory depression, it was safer than other anesthetics in use at the time. Recent research has found that, for many people suffering from treatment-resistant depression, or chronic pain, or both, ketamine infusion therapy can bring rapid relief.

Prolonged IV infusion with ketamine has been found to bring rapid relief of depression symptoms — symptoms dissipate within hours. This makes ketamine a worthwhile emergency treatment for depression and suicidal ideation as well as a useful tool to bring about temporary depression remission in those who have gotten no relief with traditional antidepressants. Ketamine infusion may also bring relief of pain symptoms for up to three months following a course of treatment.

Ketamine therapy is not a magic-bullet cure for depression or chronic pain; its effects wear off eventually. But the treatment can open up a valuable window of symptom-free time, during which folks suffering from depression and chronic pain can benefit from more lasting forms of treatment, including physical therapy, psychotherapy, and meditation. So if you or someone you love is suffering from chronic pain, and especially if he or she is also suffering from depression, don’t wait any longer to get ketamine infusion therapy. It could change your life.