Pain and Psychology-A Reciprocal Relationship

Ochsner J. 2017 Summer;17(2):173-180.


Background: Depression typically affects 5% of the general population, but among patients with chronic pain, 30%-45% experience depression. Studies have shown that the relationship between depression and pain is bidirectional: depression is a positive predictor of the development of chronic pain, and chronic pain increases the risk of developing depression.

Methods: This literature review focuses on the relationship between psychology and pain, covering studies that have investigated the association between depression, pain sensitivity, opioid abuse, and gender differences in pain perception. We conducted a PubMed search pairing the word pain with depression, opioid use, and gender differences.

Results: The relationship between depression and pain is complex, as suggested by numerous studies that propose depression to be a moderator of the relationship between pain severity, physical functioning, and opioid use. Neuroimaging also suggests an anatomic overlap in the pathway of chronic pain and depression. Positive psychological factors, namely hope, pain acceptance, and optimism, affect the adjustment to persistent pain.

Conclusion: The intricate relationship between pain and psychology is evidenced by the clinical overlap in their presentations and the overlap between the anatomic regions in the brain associated with the emotional and sensory features of pain and the areas affected by depression. Studies are beginning to improve our understanding of these two systems, but more studies are needed to elucidate the relationship.

Keywords: Analgesics–opioid; chronic pain; depression; pain; pain perception; psychology.

Publication types

  • Review