Why Chronic Pain Causes Fatigue and Depression

Are you suffering from chronic pain?
Do you feel too tired to get work done?
Is not being as efficient as you like getting you down?

Chronic pain is classified as pain that lasts three months or longer.1 Research from the National Institutes of Health shows that 126 million U.S. adults (that’s more than half of the adult population) live with chronic pain.2 Ranging from being an annoyance to being a source of severe suffering, this pain can create a host of problems besides the obvious physical discomfort. A stubborn and complex condition to treat, when chronic pain persists, it can lead to fatigue and depression.


Chronic pain makes it hard to get restorative sleep and the lack of sleep can have sufferers wake up in increased pain. Less quality sleep can decrease one’s pain threshold and pain tolerance as well as intensify the pain.3 Sleep is necessary for the body to heal and repair itself. A well-rested body has a better chance of feeling physically better because sleep supports a stronger immune system which can help reduce the inflammation that comes with the injury, infection or illness that is causing the pain.


Sadly, chronic pain can make it difficult to exercise, socialize and enjoy even the simplest pleasures in life. Thoughts about the pain coupled with the reduction in physical mobility can lead to feelings of sadness and loss. Also, being consumed with managing the physical pain while still keeping up with life’s demands, can cause excessive strain. If this emotional stress is not reduced, it can lead to depression. Feelings of sadness and despair can affect sleep quality; then the pain worsens, the stress increases and the depression deepens creating a vicious cycle that can be difficult to end.4

Common symptoms of depression from chronic pain include:

  • A sad or anxious mood
  • Difficulty with falling asleep and/or staying asleep
  • Feeling of hopeless or lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • An increase or decrease in appetite
  • Low energy or a lack of motivation4

According to psychiatrist and director of the pain treatment program at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Michael Clark, it’s how chronic pain affects neurobiology that makes it “more than just acute pain that lasts longer. It has greater intensity, causes impaired function and can migrate beyond the original pain site. The nervous system becomes distorted. Pain receptors get amplified and internal pain blockers minimized, which can make even the lightest touch be perceived as painful.”

He goes on to state that “Approximately one-third to three-quarters of people with chronic pain experience moderate to severe depression. Patients with depression experience increased pain because of overlap in the two affected systems: pain reception and mood regulation. Both depression and chronic pain share some of the same neurotransmitters and nerve pathways. So pain is worse, function is poor, response to pain treatment is diminished and their prognosis is worse until they can get their depression under better control.”5

Whether it’s migraines, arthritis, back pain or a multitude of other possibilities, no matter the location, source or intensity of the pain, if it is left untreated, it is likely to affect our ability to live a healthy, happy life. Many approaches can be taken to cope with the fatigue and depression from chronic pain such as physical therapy, medication, acupuncture, yoga, meditation, getting a distracting hobby as well as counseling.

AbleTo helps people deal with the frustration, anger, depression, and anxiety that comes with life’s challenges. We deliver programs based on your unique circumstances and needs, and we make it easy and convenient. All therapy and coaching sessions are available from the comfort, privacy and convenience of your own home at the time, day or night, that works best for your schedule. Through phone or video chat, we connect you with our Care Team so that you can get the support you need to help you feel better.

Are you ready to feel good again?

If you feel your depression is severe or if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, consult a doctor immediately or seek help at the closest emergency room. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-TALK (8255).