How to Cope With TMJ Disorder, Depression, & Chronic Pain

Photo by Ashley Rose on Flickr

In recent years the connection between depression and chronic pain has been studied heavily. Most of us realize that there is a link between the body and mind, and that they are closely tied together with each affecting the other.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) defines depression as:[quote style="boxed"]A serious medical condition that involves the body, mood, and thoughts. It affects the way a person eats and sleeps, the way one feels about oneself, and the way one thinks about things.[/quote]

Chronic pain is often defined as: [quote style="boxed"]Pain that extends beyond the expected period of healing.[/quote] Some believe that period is 6 months, while others say 12 months.

One thing is for sure…. there is often little sympathy, because most people don’t “get it.” Chronic pain is misunderstood, and often times carries a stigma. My husband recently had several stitches in his head and people could see them, so they could relate to his pain. TMJ disorder is invisible and nobody can see the pain…..does that make it less real?

There really is no way to tell how much pain a person has. No test can measure the intensity of it, it doesn’t show on imaging, and no instrument is able to locate it precisely. Don’t let anyone tell you your pain is not real.

[typography font="Copse" size="24" size_format="px" color="#d27362"]Depression is one of the most common issues facing people who have chronic pain.[/typography]

Here are some interesting statistics:
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  • The American Pain Foundation has reported that nearly 32 million people in the U.S. have reported having pain that lasted longer than one year.
  • It is estimated that 1/4 to 1/2 of the population that reports pain to their doctors are depressed.
  • Those whose pain interferes with their independence are more likely to become depressed.
  • It is expected that 1 in 10 Americans will suffer from chronic pain at some point in their lives.
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The Cycle of Depression and Pain

Pain can make recovery from depression slower, and depression can make pain harder to treat. Both pain and depression tend to feed on themselves. An example of this is: As depression leads us to become isolated, isolation leads to more depression, or, pain can cause fear of movement, and being immobile can create further pain. However… When depression is treated, pain often diminishes, and when pain is treated, depression often diminishes.
When comparing those with chronic pain and depression to those who only have chronic pain, it was found that those suffering from both reported to feel their pain more intensely, had less control over their lives, and had more unhealthy coping strategies.

Pain in any form causes an emotional response in most people. It can cause an escalation in anxiety, irritability, and agitation. These are a normal response when something causes you to hurt! As the pain diminishes, so does the emotional response.

For a chronic pain patient, the feelings of stress, loss of control, and frustration can result in depression. Here are some of the feelings and symptoms someone who is depressed may experience:

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  • Anger
  • Isolation
  • Irritability
  • Changes in mood
  • Lowered self esteem
  • Fatigue
  • Disturbances in sleep patterns
  • Appetite or weight fluctuations
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How do you know if you are depressed?
Ask yourself these questions:

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  • Have I had the same type of pain for more than a few months?
  • Does my it prevent me from working?
  • Does my pain cause me to have feelings of hopelessness & anxiety?
  • Is it interfering with my quality of life?
  • Am I experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above (changes in mood, irritability, appetite/weight fluctuations, etc)?
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Treating Chronic Pain and Depression

The ideal treatment for chronic pain and depression would be to treat all the areas of your life that are affected by it. Treatment for chronic pain and depression should overlap.

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  • Physicians prescribe analgesics for pain, and psychiatric drugs for depression.
  • You may choose to see a cognitive therapist who has experience in treating chronic pain. Cognitive therapy can help teach you how to change negative thought patterns, which in turn helps treat the depression and anxiety that go along with chronic pain.
  • Physical therapists can help you break the cycle of immobility that causes escalation in your pain levels.
  • Develop a treatment plan with your doctor, keeping in mind that the ideal plan should address all the areas of your life that are affected.
  • Learn coping strategies that will help you gain a sense of control over your illness. They may not take your pain away, but may get it to a level that you can deal with.
  • Keep a pain journal. This is a great way to help you figure out patterns. Make note of what time of day you hurt the most, what activities you were doing when your pain level changed, if and when you were stressed, sad, angry, etc.
  • Try relaxation techniques such as yoga & meditation.
[/unordered_list] (We also have an article on TMJ pain management if you would like to read more).

It is important to remember that when you are learning how to cope with chronic pain and depression you should expect setbacks along the way. Don’t be discouraged, get back on track and stay committed to your plan.

We’re here to listen and help you through your journey!

Have you dealt with depression? What did you do to try and get better?

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