Mental Health and Pain: The Deep Connection

Physical pain and mental health are interconnected. Interestingly enough, they can impact and influence each other in the short and long term. Both pain and mental health can be an uphill battle until you find a stable plateau that is strong enough to support you.

There has been extra focus on mental and physical health during the pandemic for a variety of reasons. People are experiencing more musculoskeletal (MSK) problems while working from home, such as neck and lower back pain, plantar fasciitis and more, which in turn may contribute to mental health problems, compounding the effect of both the individual ailments. 

According to KFF, in January 2021 41% of adults reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder, a number that has stayed consistent since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, people may not consider the potential negative impact on mental health due to musculoskeletal conditions in concert with the stress factors of the current climate.

Can physical pain increase risk of mental health issues?

Pain is not always associated with mental health conditions but it is quite often part of the equation. Pain is complex and it may be easy to overlook the mental aspects of pain, as those in pain may be focused on the physical component. However, a study of office workers showed that those with upper extremity musculoskeletal issues were more likely to experience higher levels of emotional distress. 

Living with chronic pain often means limitations in movement, and can inadvertently put a halt on activities that bring people joy. Injuries and pain may cause individuals to put usual activities that bring them happiness on hold and leave them feeling as though they are missing out because of pain, which can spark a negative mental state.

Can poor mental health exacerbate physical pain?

Studies show that physical pain and depression are deeply connected down to the neurotransmitters that control pain and mood. While it’s not physical pain, fatigue is also associated with an increased sensitivity to pain, and can clash with physical health. Other types of health concerns connected to mental distress are headaches, dizziness, nausea and more.

Treat pain and avoid its ripple effects

Have you considered getting ahead of physical pain before it causes a domino effect? Programs such as Omada for MSK work to help treat existing pain but also avoid other aches and pains. Not only does the CDC recommend physical therapy as the first line of treatment for chronic pain, but physical therapy can be the first step in stopping mental health problems related to pain in its tracks. **On average, members with depression and anxiety risk indicators at the start of Omada’s MSK program experience 75% improvement in behavioral health symptoms.

While standard practice for physical therapy addresses physical impairments based solely on biomedical concepts, the Omada approach employs a psychologically informed practice model, which incorporates patient beliefs, attitudes and emotional responses into patient care, based on biopsychosocial models.

Effective management of any chronic condition doesn’t happen overnight, but treatment by a physical therapist is now more efficient than ever. With Omada for MSK, members can avoid long waits for an in-person appointment and meet with their virtual PT in 48 hours or less. Using computer vision technology, Omada PTs can take a detailed look at a member's physical movements, highlighting changes in range of motion objectively, and providing qualitative data to incorporate an appropriate, integrated care plan.

Efficient, behavior science-led treatment of MSK issues can, in turn, reduce or prevent associated mental health challenges, thus avoiding lost workdays and increasing productivity at work. Improved mobility and overall movement confidence are added bonuses!

**Source: BoB stats for Omada MSK members from 1/2020 - 8/2021