The research coming out in 2018 on the convergence of chronic pain and mental health show that it is a complex relationship that researchers are still unraveling. We know that chronic pain can exacerbate mental health problems like depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation and vice versa. The strong connection between mental health and chronic pain has led researchers to new holistic, person-centered treatment interventions. These address not just the source of chronic pain but also the mind-body connection. Read on to learn more about the top pain and mental health research stories from the first half of 2018. With such a wide range of discoveries, we’re already looking forward to what the second half of 2018 uncovers.

1. Using knee pain to screen for depression risk

A long-term research study in Japan found that chronic knee pain could be used as an effective way to screen people with a risk of developing depression.

The multi-year study found that 12% of older adults with chronic knee pain who initially reported no symptoms of depression developed symptoms of depression within two years. Individuals whose pain impacted their ability to function in their day-to-day activities were particularly at risk. Researchers suggest that chronic knee pain could helpful in identifying and screening for symptoms of depression.

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2. Aggression from chronic migraines may indicate suicide risk

A recent study published in The Journal of Headache and Pain found that aggression is common amongst chronic migraine sufferers. People suffering from chronic migraines were more likely to report higher levels of anger and hostility than the general population.

Additionally, research shows that chronic migraines with aggression correlate with an increase in suicidal ideation and attempt risk. Recognizing aggression as a symptom of chronic migraines, and treating it with anger management, could reduce suicide rates amongst chronic migraine sufferers.

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3. Dogs help people with chronic pain

The Human-Animal Pain Interaction (HAPI) research team in Calgary has been studying the role that dogs can play in managing chronic pain. They found that people with dogs reported significantly lower levels of pain but also improved overall mental and social health.

Additionally, they found that dogs serve as a welcome distraction from chronic pain and provide much-needed emotional support.

As one patient said:

“My dog gives me permission to cry. There’s no judgment.”

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4. Guided art tours could ease chronic pain

Researchers in California teamed up with the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento to study whether guided art tours could provide relief for chronic pain. Up to 57% of participants reported less pain after the tour.

Most participants reported less feelings of unpleasantness as well as feeling more socially connected. Their findings back the belief that social experiences have a positive impact on chronic physical pain. Researchers note:

“Psychological improvements in mood, self-esteem, confidence, quality of life, reductions in anxiety and stress, learning and acquisition of new skills, and development of social bonds, are shared across a range of different types of activities.”

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5. Relationship problems may worsen chronic pain

A recent study has found a link between chronic pain and marital tension.

Participants in the study kept daily diaries about their pain, mood, and interactions with their spouse. Results showed that when participants felt tension with their spouse, they reported that their pain was worse.

Notably, the study also showed spousal tension leads to pain which in turn exacerbates spousal tension resulting in an unhealthy cycle. The results of this study highlight the importance of treating the whole person and not just symptoms.

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16 Of The Newest Research Findings On Pain And Mental Health |

6. Uncovering the link between trauma and fibromyalgia

A recent study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine looked at the relationship between female veterans diagnosed with fibromyalgia and history of military sexual trauma (MST), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and childhood abuse.

Results showed that 90% of participants with fibromyalgia had experienced MST. The average participant also reported moderate to high childhood abuse ranging from emotional neglect to sexual assault.

The current standard practice for fibromyalgia in veterans includes screening for MST and PTSD. This research suggests that screening for childhood trauma as well could improve treatment for some patients.

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7. Using animation could more accurately express pain levels

Most of you are familiar with the question “On a scale of 1-10, how bad is your pain?” but what if there were a way to be more precise with your doctors? Researchers out of the University of Pittsburgh believe they have found a way to do that through what they are calling “Painimation.”

Painimation is an animated assessment tool in which patients choose animations to describe their pain. They are able to customize the speed, color, focus, and size to match their pain as well as specify where on their body they experience the pain. The research team believes that by interpreting a patient’s pain this way they will be able to more effectively understand their pain and provide treatment.

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8. Childhood adversity linked with more pain in adulthood

An article published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine found that people who experience adversity in their early life may experience greater physical pain in adulthood.

This adversity could include:

  • Abuse
  • Neglect
  • Loss of a parent
  • Financial issues

The study found that childhood adversity results in adult mood and sleep disorders, which they believe, contribute to the intensity of a person’s pain.

Their results also found that those adults who felt more optimistic and in control of their lives experienced the same intensity of pain, but were able to prevent it from ruining their day. Researchers believe further research could indicate alternative treatments and resiliency building as alternative pain management tools.

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9. Skipping lunch to treat chronic pain?

Neuroscientists at the University of Pennsylvania were researching neurons related to hunger when they noticed unexpected responses to pain. They found that when mice are hungry they react as expected to acute pain, but were significantly less responsive to longer lasting inflammatory pain.

Their findings suggest that when hungry the brain suppresses chronic pain while leaving acute pain responses intact. Evolutionarily, this may allow an animal healing from a painful injury to suppress their pain in order to find food to survive.

While research is still needed on how hunger and other drives impact our perceptions of pain, it opens up exciting research for future treatments.

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10. Anti-depressant use could help with opioid cessation

Researchers at St. Louis University have found that depression is a common result of long-term prescription opioid use. Additionally, they found that patients who adhere to an anti-depressant regimen are actually more likely to stop taking opioids.

Patients who took anti-depressants and stopped their opioid use also saw quicker relief of their depression symptoms. Researchers believe that by treating the depression they may be able to effectively break the reinforcing relationship between opioid use and depression.

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16 Of The Newest Research Findings On Pain And Mental Health |

11. Mindfulness could increase pain tolerance

Researchers at the University of Kent are studying the effect of mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) on injured athletes’ pain tolerance.

In conjunction with normal physiotherapy, athletes participated in weekly 90-minute mindfulness sessions for eight weeks. Results showed that the mindfulness practice increased their pain tolerance, mindful awareness, and resulted in more positive overall moods.

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12. Chronic widespread pain related to sleep problems

Two studies considering the relationship of sleep problems with chronic widespread pain were presented at the 2018 Annual European Congress of Rheumatology.

The first study found that problems initiating sleep, maintaining sleep, early morning waking, and non-restorative sleep were predictive of developing chronic widespread pain.

The second study found a relationship amongst adolescents who were experiencing chronic pain and sleep problems, as well as an increased risk of anxiety. Both of the studies highlight how important it is to discuss any and all sleep issues with your doctor.

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13. Racial disparities in chronic pain treatment

There are known racial disparities in mental health care. Now, a new study from Yale examines compounding disparities in chronic pain treatment for racial minorities.

The results of the study showed that recommended illicit drug screenings are not routinely being done—at least for some populations. African Americans, however, were twice as likely as white people to be screened.

If tested positive for marijuana or cocaine, 90% of patients continued to receive opioid prescriptions although African Americans were twice as likely to have their prescriptions discontinued if they screened positive for marijuana and three times as likely to have their prescriptions discontinued if they screened positive for cocaine.

The researchers believe physicians need clearer guidelines for opioid prescriptions and illicit drug use as well as implementing standard practices such as mandatory screening of all patients to account for any individual biases.

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14. Understanding emotional well-being and cannabis use

For the first time ever, researchers at Washington State University are researching how cannabis use impacts stress, anxiety, and depression across different strains of cannabis.

Cannabis use may reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress although it is known to increase symptoms of depression over time. The researchers examined different responses when participants used cannabis high in THC and low in CBD and vice versa.

They believe that despite common perceptions, CBD is just as important as THC in relieving mental health symptoms and may even augment the effects of CBD. This research could be an important step to identifying specific types and doses of cannabis to help supplement traditional treatment for chronic pain and mental health.

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15. How social media use could impact chronic pain

The ways social media impacts our lives mentally and physically is an ever-present hot button issue.

A new study out of San Francisco State University examines how and if social media use is addictive. Or, counter-intuitively, if it could lead to people feeling more isolated, lonely, and depressed.

However, social media can also be a valuable tool in helping bring people with similar experiences together. There is ongoing research on how social media can be used to benefit the chronic pain community. Specifically how social media, online forums, and websites like this one can foster support, empowerment, and information sharing for isolated patients.

We don’t yet know all the ways social media is harmful or helpful. It is important to be mindful about how your own social media use is affecting you.

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16 Of The Newest Research Findings On Pain And Mental Health |

16. Tricking your own RNA

An exciting new study published in Nature Communications aims to bypass the body’s normal process of remembering and encoding pain at the RNA level. The study noted that:

“Campbell’s team took the approach of blocking the creation of the proteins that set pain in motion. After an injury, instructions provided by the genome — the full set of genetic instructions present in each cell — are translated to create pain-signaling proteins. Those instructions are encoded in molecules called messenger RNA, or mRNA. The decoy Campbell’s team constructed interrupts the pain-protein synthesis process that mRNA facilitates, reducing signs of inflammation and impairing pain behaviors.”

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Get help

The research so far in 2018 on pain and mental health reminds us there is always more going on than just physical pain. It is okay and important to seek mental health care. In fact, doing so is a vital step to your overall healing and pain relief.

If you are interested in learning more about mental health resources, check out these 22 affordable online resources for therapy. They can be a lifeline if you’re struggling.

If you’re looking for social support for chronic pain, check out our Facebook chronic pain support group or other online chronic support groups. These online support groups can connect you with other pain patients who intimately understand and know what you’re going through. With the right support and access to therapy, you can live a better life with pain.

If you are experiencing deep despair and find yourself thinking suicidal thoughts or making plans, please reach out to a trusted friend or call the National Suicide Prevention hotline (1-800-273-8255) immediately. 

If you’re suffering from pain, there is help. We work with highly-qualified pain specialists across the U.S. who are dedicated to applying the most cutting-edge research into their current treatment plans. These doctors also make your current lifestyle and needs a priority in treatment. To find a doctor near you, click the button below or look for one in your area by using the tips here:

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