Chronic pain often makes it difficult to sleep. But the connection between sleep and pain appears to work both ways. Lack of sleep appears to worsen chronic pain. One study of children with a painful form of juvenile arthritis found that, after a night of poor sleep, the kids reported greater pain the next day. Managing sleep is an important part of treating chronic pain for some people.
Suffering from pain that won’t go away—and often can’t be explained—may begin to affect your mood, leading to sadness and depression. In a survey of 728 pain sufferers on waiting lists at multi-disciplinary pain treatment centers, Canadian researchers found that half reported severe depression, and a third had thought about suicide. The bottom line: Effective chronic pain treatment should include mental health counseling when needed.
Over time, persistent pain may make you feel anxious. Symptoms of anxiety appear to be most common in people with neck or lower back pain. It’s not a harmless problem. Research has shown that anxiety may cause people to “catastrophize” their pain—believing that it poses more of a threat than it does. This can increase their feelings of helplessness in the face of pain. Helping people overcome “pain catastrophizing” may become a key part of pain treatment.
Hurting all the time would make anyone feel tired. When chronic pain disrupts sleep, the result can be daytime fatigue that makes it difficult to do daily activities. Pain experts encourage patients to find ways to remain active despite their pain. In fact, one of the chief goals of chronic pain treatment is to help patients stay functional—that is, able to perform the activities of daily living.
Chronic pain can make it physically difficult to enjoy sex. And when pain leads to depression or anxiety, it can rob you of your sex drive almost completely. In a 2013 survey of people with chronic pain, 81 percent reported sexual problems. Unfortunately, some medications used to treat chronic pain can aggravate the problem by further reducing libido.
The psychological and physical toll of chronic pain can ultimately create marital and family stress. Loved ones may have to take on more household work. Family income may decline if the person with chronic pain can’t work. Relationship problems, in turn, can make it harder to deal with chronic pain. Some pain experts recommend counseling the whole family on how to deal with chronic pain.