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Chronic Pain More Common in Partners of Those with Depression

Man comforts a woman in painPeople in romantic relationships with partners who have depression are more likely to experience chronic pain, according to a study published in the journal PLOS Medicine. Researchers found both conditions often have common causes, including genetics and environmental causes.

The Link Between Chronic Pain and Depression

For the study, researchers analyzed health data from more than 100,000 participants in United Kingdom health studies. They looked at factors such as family history of chronic pain and mental health conditions, symptoms of depression and chronic pain, and experiences with romantic partners who have depression or chronic pain.

The results showed moderate heritability of chronic pain, suggesting at least some genetic component of the condition. However, spouses were also likely to share symptoms of chronic pain, pointing to environmental and stress-related causes.

The study also found a significant correlation between risk factors for depression and chronic pain. People with a family history of depression experienced chronic pain at higher rates, as did people involved in relationships with partners who experienced depression.

Understanding Chronic Pain

The latest study supports an increasing understanding of chronic pain as a complex condition with many potential risk factors. Researchers have long suspected psychological distress is a trigger for worsening chronic pain. People with chronic pain may worry that a psychological origin for the pain suggests they are faking or imagining the pain, but research shows thoughts and emotions about pain can change the experience of pain.

Psychological states may also trigger pain. For example, a stressed person might unconsciously tense muscles in their back or avoid pain reduction strategies such as exercising and stretching. Numerous other health issues or medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, may also have psychological components.

According to the National Institutes of Health, 76.2 million (1 in 4) Americans have experienced chronic pain. Chronic pain plays a role in many mental health conditions, and it may affect the opioid abuse and overdose epidemic. Doctors frequently prescribe opioids for chronic pain, but these medications can quickly become addictive and some research suggests opioids may actually increase chronic pain. Psychotherapy may be a better solution for chronic pain, as studies have shown psychological treatment can change how the brain responds to the sensation of pain.


  1. Chronic pain linked to partners of people with depression. (2016, August 16). Retrieved from
  2. Managing chronic pain: How psychologists can help with pain management. (2013, December). Retrieved from
  3. Mcintosh, A. M., Hall, L. S., Zeng, Y., Adams, M. J., Gibson, J., Wigmore, E., . . . Hocking, L. J. (2016). Genetic and environmental risk for chronic pain and the contribution of risk variants for major depressive disorder: A family-based mixed-model analysis. PLOS Medicine, 13(8). doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1002090
  4. Pain management. (2013, March 29). Retrieved from

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Alex

    August 24th, 2016 at 10:33 AM

    Could be that you are always feeling that weight of having to care for this person

  • Mary

    August 24th, 2016 at 2:30 PM

    You see a study like this and the only conclusion that it leads me to is that the stress of being in a family where there is this kind of worry and depression is bound to take an emotional and physical toll on the other people in that family as well.
    Like it or not much of how we feel is determined in both large and small ways by the health of the people with whom we are the closest.
    There is no rhyme nor reason to this explanation, it just is what seems to happen to families when you have a loved one struggling through the pain of depression or any illness.

  • Dianne

    August 25th, 2016 at 1:57 PM

    I have fibromyalgia and the more stress I have in my life, you are right that is when I can really feel bogged down with the discomfort and pain.
    If a family member is struggling then I really do feel it the more that I worry about them.
    My doctors have warned me that this could be a problem for me but I don’t know how to shut off that worry valve you know?

  • danielle

    August 26th, 2016 at 10:51 AM

    and I wonder if there are ever any providers who actually sit down with these patients to talk to them about what other roles they have to play in their lives,
    what kinds of things that they manage daily that could cause such added stress and worry and fuel that pain that they feel.
    I would suspect that the numbers of that happening are pretty low
    mainly because no medical provider ever wants to admit that there can be such a strong correlation between what one deals with in their mental health lives and their physical manifestations.

  • Petey

    August 27th, 2016 at 8:58 AM

    Chronic pain also plays a large role in the lives of the person who actually is depressed too

  • Marina

    August 30th, 2016 at 11:30 AM

    There are always going to be questions like
    could you have prevented this from happening?

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