Neck Pain and Depression

Neck pain and depression are often interlinked, with one causing the other or the two occurring as part of another condition such as fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome. Chronic pain of any kind can have significant ramifications for emotional and psychological health and neck pain can be particularly worrisome as it can be difficult to isolate the cause of the pain and apply effective neck pain treatments. Conversely, neck pain may be an effect of depression or anxiety as patients’ muscles become tense, chronic stress leads to muscle fatigue, and degenerative processes in the cervical spine increase as inflammation continues unabated.

Combined Neck Pain and Depression Increasingly Debilitating

In some cases of chronic neck pain, treating depression rather than the symptom of pain can completely cure the patient who, oftentimes, has undergone numerous other treatments before finding the one that helped. Major depression was found by Sullivan, et al (1992), to be four times greater in those with chronic back pain than in the general population, and in other studies looking at depression in patients with chronic low back pain who seek treatment at pain clinics the rates were even higher. Of these patients, 32-82% showed some degree of depressive symptoms, with an average of 62% included in this group (Deardorff and Goldstein, 1996). Currie and Wang (2004) also noted that the combination of depression and chronic back pain was associated with greater disability than either symptom alone.

Highest Neck Pain Levels Associated with Depression and Anxiety

Researchers in Germany also found an association between neck pain and depression with 20% of the 448 subjects in one particular study having experienced depressive mood alongside neck pain. Blozik and Scherer, et al (2009), looked at psychosocial factors as contributors to neck pain and depression and determined that they could be of significance for many patients when devising treatment strategies. In this study 56% of the patients reported neck pain present on the day they filled out the questionnaire, with 26% reporting chronic neck pain in the last year. Just over a quarter of the patients had anxiety issues and those with either depressive mood or anxiety were more likely to have higher levels of neck pain; Currie and Wang (2004) also observed this tendency for highest back pain levels in patients with depressive symptoms. Scherer notes that patients with the highest levels of reported neck pain could be considered the priority for treatments targeted at depression and anxiety. Treating patients’ neck pain symptoms as well as addressing psychosocial factors appears to be more effective according to Scherer than simply providing palliative neck pain therapy and leaving depression untreated.